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Is teaching our kids to share helpful or harmful?

Babies not sharing

Most of us feel we should encourage sharing to be socially correct. But is teaching our kids to share doing more harm than good?

Some children find it easier to enjoy things jointly with a playmate than other children do. But for the majority of small people, sharing is one of the greatest challenges of childhood.

It’s difficult for young children to share because they are egocentric by nature.

“This is developmentally appropriate and means that they are unable to see the world from another person’s point of view; their own feelings are what matters most to them,” says clinical psychologist for Nubabi, Claire Toi.

If you watch them at play, you will notice that they are engaging in parallel play (playing next to each other rather than with each other) and even if they are chatting away, you’d pick up that there is a lot of talking, but hardly any listening, says Claire.“As the child is at the centre of their own world, they are not able to grasp the concept of sharing. They don’t understand that another child has wants or demands – and want to meet those demands even less so,” she says.

Try to see it from the child’s vantage point: I’m playing with a car that I really like; now Mom is taking it away to give to another child. But I want the car!

“Enforcing sharing can lead to big emotions like frustration and anger, most often expressed in a tantrum,” says Claire. Forcing children to share also teaches them that if they demand something from another child, it will be given to them because that child ‘should’ share. This can lead to unnecessary confusion and conflict too.

“I don’t really think sharing should be forced at any age, mostly because it’s an act of altruism which can’t be enforced as this would defeat the purpose of the act. Also, as children are so vulnerable, I do believe that they should be allowed some agency and the right to say ‘no’ and to have that ‘no’ respected (within reason and the limitations of safety). If we override their right to say ‘no’ we are left with teens and then adults who may struggle to assert themselves,” says Claire.

There are, however, ways that you can encourage sharing in positive ways, without forcing it.

Modelling behaviour is one of the most powerful teaching tools that we adults have. You can start demonstrating sharing behaviour to your child from a very young age. You can also label and describe the behaviour for your child, and how it makes someone else feel when you share with them. This is different from ‘making’ your child share. As your child gets older, he will also learn that there are consequences to sharing or not sharing and he can make his own choices as to whether or not to share.

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