I’m going to make this post short, sweet, and to the point.
I’ve worked with a lot of young children, and one of the hardest things to teach is sharing. Some children are naturally more generous than others.
Here is the secret I have learned, which is even more important in a family than in a classroom.
Children share more when they are given the choice.
I firmly believe in guiding young children in the way they should go. And I believe in encouraging them to do the right thing. I also believe in praising them when they make the right choice on their own.
But I have seen time and time again that the best way to teach children to share is to let them make that choice.
Here is what happens when children are forced to share:
You create a culture of secrecy and hoarding.
When children know that they will not be allowed to keep for themselves what is precious to them, they will try to hide it. They are being taught that the only way their belongings can be respected is if they are out of sight and out of mind.
Allowing children the choice to share or not instills a culture of respect in your family. It tells children that their autonomy is respected (to an extent), their belongings are respected, and their feelings are respected.
Will children always make the right choice to share?
No. Probably not.
But when they do share, it will be genuine. They will do so out of kindness and generosity rather than just obedience or intimidation. Obedience is a good thing! But wouldn’t you rather your children do the right thing out of the goodness of their heart?
There is nothing more beautiful to me than seeing children loving others in a non-artificial way.
How can you help your children learn to share while still giving them the choice?
Encourage siblings to ask politely when they want something
Children pick up on tone of voice and attitude. They are much more likely to go into “no!” mode if they feel threatened or pressured. Maintaining an atmosphere is respect is key to encouraging sharing culture in your family, especially as young children are still learning to share.
Define what is theirs and what is not
Explain at appropriate times that while they may have some level of authority when it comes to their toys, that authority does not extend to the living room couch, or the family computer. They can choose whether or not to share what belongs to them, but mommy and daddy get to decide who uses family belongings.
Catch them sharing and praise them for it
Encourage your children when you see them doing the right thing! I don’t believe that material rewards are necessary applicable in this case, but let them know that you’re proud of them for making good choices.
Generosity is a naturally good feeling, but it can take a little while for children to realize that. Toddlers and preschoolers live in a self-oriented world. Rewarding them for recognizing others emotions and acting accordingly builds their empathy and expands their worldview.