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Got Sharing? Think Caring!

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | December 20, 2011 | Child Development

Your newborn baby is ready to care and share, right from the start. Yes – the very start. Neonatal nurses know that the sound of a crying newborn will trigger “sympathetic crying” in the other newborns.  It’s part of your baby’s “hardware” that includes specific brain circuits for caring and sharing.  New research – summarized here by one of my infant research gurus, Dr. Alison Gopnik  – shows how even the youngest of children learn about how to love and be loved.

That hardware needs regular software updates as your baby grows. Every time you respond to your child’s needs, help her understand others’ thoughts and feelings, and show her how to get along with friends, you build her capacity to care and share.

So your preschooler is already a pro at having caring and sharing feelings. But your youngster is a work in progress. He’s not always willing – or able – to take turns, offer up some time with a beloved toy, or share mom’s lap with his baby sister. He just needs more experience ˗ and guidance ˗ to become a super sharer.

Here are some tips to help you turn those loving feelings into lovely sharing:

Words.  Give words to feelings, and show how words can help. “I wonder what your friend is crying about. Do you think he’s feeling sad? Is there something we can do to help him?”

Friends.  Sorry, mom and dad – when it comes to sharing, kids learn better from friends than from you. Playing together is much more fun than playing alone, and kids can only learn this through experience. Playdates and preschool are the perfect learning labs for sharing – just be available to help smooth out the rough spots.

Expectations.  Gush over kids you see sharing, and say, “What great sharing. In our family, we think sharing is awesome.” Demonstrate that you disapprove of selfishness by identifying with the child who is left out. “Kara didn’t get a turn. How are you feeling, Kara? Can we help?”

Bunnies, duckies, and puppies.  Preschoolers love cute little creatures – the tinier, the better.  Watch for play opportunities to turn caring feelings into sharing and taking care of others. “Oh, the teeny, tiny ducky didn’t get to play. How can his friends help him?”

The Host with the Most.  Let your child be the “host” of his playdate. Plan it out in advance, getting his ideas to create lots of opportunities for your child to be gracious. Have him show his friends his toys, where the bathroom is, and have him distribute snacks. Sharing is much easier when you’re passing out treats, after all.

Speaking of treats, don’t forget to come back to print, color and upload our next Super Sharing Story: Mom’s Cake. Yummy fun!

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