Understanding & Supporting Sharing by Michelle Mattesini

It is easy to be attached to the expectations we have of how our children should be in the world and of our belief in what they need to ‘learn’ in order to be socially adept. Sharing is positively regarded in our culture and as a result parents often feel the pressure to ensure their child is acting in a socially acceptable way. Distinguishing between what is developmentally normal and our personal values can be confusing. Hopefully these ideas offer some insight into sharing;

  • Be a model of generosity while remembering that children’s selfishness is developmentally appropriate.
  • The power to possess is natural while the value of sharing requires considerable personal experience.
  • Don’t force your child to share! Your toddler’s driving intent may be exploration and ownership.
  • Sharing is a learned behaviour – children under 3 need lots of support, don’t expect a lot of sharing.

How to encourage sharing…

  • Allow your child time to feel secure in their ownership of something so they will later feel ready to let go of it. When children feel insecure in their ownership they will possess it more intensely.
  • Validate the effect of your child’s authentic acts of sharing – ‘Sarah is smiling now she is able to use that pen too’
  • When waiting for something your child really wants offer your time and attention while waiting by suggesting ‘let’s watch together while we wait’ or ‘let’s listen together until it’s our time’
  • Suggest (or invite your child to suggest) the possibility of turn taking. One way to explain this is; ‘When Tom has finished on the swing you could have a turn.’
  • When a child really wants something you could explain, ‘We can ask Jilly if she is ready to give you the ball, she might say yes or she might say no.’ This helps prepare the child for the possibility of having to wait or to be denied something and helps them witness and learn about choice. Trust that they have the emotional resilience to handle any answer.
  • It is easier to share some things if the child isn’t required to share everything. Before friends visit suggest your child stores away the toys they don’t want others to play with. This often helps them approve ownership by visiting children while under no immediate pressure.
  • Model, model, model! Every time you share you have the option of saying ‘I’d like to share this with you…’ Sharing food is a great chance to model willingness and pleasure in sharing.

Grabbing or passivity…

If you have a child who often grabs, try to stay as close as possible in social settings so that you can intercept gently and offer eye contact and an observation or explanation of what is happening. Children may resist this interception and become emotional, whining, crying or protesting crossly. This is an expression of their inner tension and they may need the opportunity to download built up feelings by crying or tantruming. By intercepting you are supporting your child in retaining good relations with the other children involved and you are giving your child the change to discharge the tension which motivates the behaviour.

Some children will make next to no protestation when having things taken from them without their permission. Parents often feel relieved because there is no obvious upset to deal with but this child will carry their upset internally and may need support from a parent to express their feelings. It may be that the parent speaks the feelings for the child and validates what they believe the child is experiencing so the child feels understood and can identify with his own feelings.

  • Sharing is about more than ‘things’. Invite your children to share their feelings, their thoughts, their time, their ideas, their desires. Authentic sharing is a real joy.
  • When you think your child is selfish, remember their many acts of generosity too!

Did you know? Research by Hay et al., (1991) concluded that 2 year-olds were more likely to offer toys to peers when playthings were scarce rather than plentiful! They also concluded that children were less likely to share after toddlerhood!

Learn more 

Attachment Parenting’s accredited Positive Parenting course, suitable for parents, carers and anyone working with children, includes modules on this and a wide range of positive discipline topics in 10 flexible interactive modules.

 Michelle Mattesini

Michelle Mattesini

About the Author

Michelle Mattesini is the mum of 2 girls aged 7 and 5 years and is the founding director of APUK, a writer and speaker. An experienced support group leader herself, Michelle trained with Attachment Parenting International and now manages the thriving APUK community nationwide. She is the creator of the upcoming School of Attachment Parenting offering an online e-course in Positive Discipline as well as a collaborator in the unique ‘Love Parenting Project’ offering pay-it-forward coaching to parents. A keynote speaker at the Mumsnet Bumpfest Conference she is an enthusiastic advocate of Attachment Parenting and self-care.

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