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With Halloween approaching fast, you might be anticipating the seasonal candy skirmishes that erupt in the fall. These scenes go something like this: you team up with another family to go trick-or-treating and, by the end of the night, several kids are in tears because Kid A won’t share his/her loot and, in retaliation, Kid B has stolen the first one’s candy. Or something along those lines.
Maybe your little one is just old enough to walk the block in her favorite Disney outfit, or maybe he/ she will roam the neighborhood with another chaperone this Halloween, but sharing is a skill that most kids could work on.
Work on it they must, because sharing is a muscle that needs to be toned and conditioned, just like most habits in life. According to research by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, young ones very often know that sharing is “right,” but because of an underdevelopment of their impulse control center, they struggle to act “right.”
It’s like how adults already know that regular exercise is good for them, but don’t always break a sweat the recommended three days a week.
Children—sometimes— just can’t resist the urge to do something “bad.” In the Halloween example, that might be stealing someone else’s candy, or maybe just refusing to give away one candy that they don’t even like. Of course, this is just one theory on why children don’t always follow through with their fairness regime. The good news is that most kids do understand the concept of fair, and they can work on those self-control muscles.
“Just because the brain is that way doesn't mean it can't be changed,” says German researcher Nikolaus Steinbeis. “Education and setting a good example can have an enormous impact.”
For starters, begin with an approach that is appropriate for your child’s age.
Sharing for toddlers
Set the example. Show generosity with adults and children, and your kids will learn just by observing.
Set the scene ahead of time. Help children prepare to share by walking them through a situation ahead of time. In the candy scenario, help your kid identify some candy ahead of the big day that he/she may be willing to trade or share.
• Recognize their feelings. You can do this by asking questions like, “Are you scared you won’t have any Skittles left?” Doing this helps a little one understand his/her own feelings and, eventually, grow empathy for others.
Sharing for preschoolers
Prepare them with the right scripts. Help them to negotiate and solve differences with others by teaching and repeating the phrases, “Can I have a turn, please?” and “This is my work; I’m not ready to share yet.” Equipping your preschooler with the ability to negotiate boundaries is a great way to open sharing opportunities.
Teach them that having sharing boundaries is okay. If there’s a toy or an extra special kind of candy that is off-limits for sharing, show them how to politely decline a share. The flip side here is that there’s always something else that can be given. A good phrase here is, “Can I share something else with you instead?”
When you can and when it’s appropriate, see that each preschool aged child has their own items. If you have a playdate on the books, make sure everyone is equipped with the right play things. On Halloween, that could mean making sure everyone brings their favorite candy bag. This will help you avoid unnecessary friction.
• Again, make a show of your good example. Whenever you can, model good sharing language and behavior.
Sharing for children in K-5
Use a timer to so that everyone knows the sharing is fair.
Let them decide. At this age, children have probably internalized basic concepts of sharing, so let them come up with their own solutions. For example, when another child cries for a turn with a toy, drive the one with the toy to a compromise. Ask: “How long will you be playing with the red truck?” Followed by: “When can you let Adam have a turn?”
• Practice by role playing. Asking a younger child to show an older sibling how to share is a low-stakes way to refine those skills!