‘It cannot be better than this’ he thought: He wanted to know if the car doors could be opened or if it will run very fast and then suddenly, someone spoiled this wonderful experience and asked him to please share the car with his friend. ‘But he is not even my friend, and I don’t know what sharing means’, thought Tom. He started to cry, ‘It’s mine’ he cried.
Today Tom learned a difficult lesson; that nothing belongs to you here at school and everything needs to be shared. Sharing is certainly scaring!
Teaching toddlers and pre-schoolers for the past 17 years, I have always had the unsettling feeling that the concept of ‘sharing’ is not always the way to go. In fact, it is always quite a challenge to help very young children understand this complex social requirement. Most typically, children at this age will not begin to understand and willingly share with peers until perhaps 5 years and beyond in some cases.
The question arises, is sharing always caring, or is it scaring? A young child who has had the whole world revolve around him with the home environment to himself has great difficulty understanding the concept of sharing when he steps inside a place called ‘the classroom’. Upon entering, he sees the wonderful toys and interesting areas to explore and doesn’t understand why he cannot access everything without being disturbed. Sharing is just a word for young children that they repeatedly hear when they need to part with their favorite possession, thus attaching negative connotations to the term. In the child’s mind, this defeats the idea that ‘sharing’ is something good, empathic, and caring.
Sharing is an important aspect of human social cooperation, rooted in early evolution. Studies have shown that infants as young as 8 months old demonstrate spontaneous offering of food and other objects to parents (e.g., Hay & Murray, 1982; Hay, 1979; Rheingold, Hay, & West, 1976).
However, although sharing can emerge quite early in some cases, it appears to be a typical challenge for young children. Toddlers rarely share toys with their peers, though the rate of spontaneous sharing increases from 12 to 30 months of age (e.g., Brownell, Svetlova, & Nichols, 2009; Hay, Castle, Davies, Demetriou, & Stimson, 1999; Levitt, Weber, Clark, & McDonnell, 1985). Additionally, other research has shown that preschoolers find sharing a challenge. For example, children aged between 3 and 5 years reserved 10 pieces of food for themselves while sharing only one piece of food with their peers (Birch & Billman, 1986). Sharing is difficult for young children probably because it results in a sacrifice of something valued for someone else’.
According to the ‘Theory of Mind’ by age two, children understand that people will feel happy if they get what they want and will feel sad if they do not. And at this age children see that there may be a difference between what they want and what another person wants. Additionally, this developing awareness is seen in children’s language as well: two-year-old children are able to talk about what they and what others want, those things they like and how they feel. Then when they are three, they are able to talk about what other people think and know.
An unaddressed question is how we explain the development of sharing in children.
As Educators, it falls on our shoulders to introduce and implement the concept of ‘Sharing’.
Here are a few tips which I have found useful:
• It is very important to introduce sharing gradually. At the start of the first term, practitioners need to have enough resources and toys for every child to access and play with. We can then introduce the idea of exchanging toys and taking turns.
• Demonstrate and model ‘sharing’ with your colleagues, and don’t forget to say, ‘Thank you Ms. J for sharing’.
• Be a good role model by acknowledging and valuing others’ feelings and showing understanding and sympathy when someone is sad, upset, distressed, frustrated, or in need of help.
• Read stories that promote sharing and empathy. Use puppets to support when talking about feelings.
• Connect behaviors with the feelings of children so that they understand cause and effect.
• Plan group activities for children that foster cooperation and encourage them to share and take turns, which builds the foundation of making healthy relationships. Good resources for cooperative play could be blocks, Lego, small world corners such as ‘farms’ castles’ or ‘dolls house’. The role-play area set up as a kitchen or shop for pretend play promotes social skills, cooperation, and teamwork.
There will be times when no strategy seems to work, and squabbles break out. It is important at these times to determine who had the toy first and then implement a turn-taking strategy. Agree on who is using it first and ensure the other child gets his turn. Also, don’t feel guilty about just taking the toy away. Wait for a few minutes and talk to the children involved in the fight. Sometimes children need that moment to be away to find something more interesting.
I hope you find these strategies helpful – they always worked with me.
References: Development of Sharing in Preschoolers in Relation to Theory of Mind
Author: Simeen Khan, Nursery Manager