Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Sharing is an essential social skill that your four-year-old should possess if she intends to get along with others. If she can’t share her toys or her sweets, then you can be sure that chaos will quickly ensue!
Unfortunately, psychological research suggests that most children this age prefer to hang on grimly to their toys than to let another child play with them. In other words, sharing doesn’t come naturally to most kids – they usually have to learn to do it.
Resistance Is Normal
Your child’s struggle with sharing is normal. At this age, she still tends to view the world mainly from her own individual perspective. All she thinks is: “This is my toy, not hers, and I want to keep it for myself.” Her instinct is to protect her possessions at all costs. Hence, it’s hardly surprising that sharing is unpopular with children aged three or four.
For your child to achieve this social skill, she has to be:
1. Empathic This means she has to understand that her friend has needs and desires too, just like her, and that her friend feels the same way about her toys as well.
2. Giving This means she must be willing to temporarily part with a toy that she likes very much and wants to play with herself, even though she may find it difficult to do so.
3. Trusting Sharing requires a leap of faith and trust that the other child will return the toy soon and in the same condition it was given – this is a hard concept for a toddler to grasp.
You can now understand why sharing is tough for your four-year-old – perhaps too tough for her to manage alone without your support. It is natural for her to scream and shout loudly the second another child approaches her toys. However, she can gradually learn how to share, as long as you encourage her.
The best place for your growing child to learn how to share is at home. Under your guidance and supervision in that safe environment, she’ll be more willing to take risks with sharing because she trusts you implicitly.
Make a start in teaching her the social skill of sharing by giving her a small bag of sweets. Once she takes the bag, ask her to give you one of the sweets instead of keeping them all to herself, and suggest that she offer one to her brother and sister too. Be prepared to give her gentle persuasion as she may refuse to cooperate with your request initially. Persist until she shares, however grudgingly.
Then, give her lots of praise. Tell her: “The other children will like you better when you share, and they will be willing to share their toys with you as well.” Spell out the practical implications to your toddler. The more you do this at home, the better – she’ll gradually begin to apply the same principles to social situations outside the family home.
Setting a good example yourself is also important. Your four-year-old imitates a lot of your behaviour because she loves you and wants to be like you. Show her that you enjoy sharing things with her, with your other children and with your own friends too. A sharing home atmosphere will encourage everyone to be more generous with their possessions.