Learning Together

Get answers, share concerns and join in the conversation.

Get expert insight into early childhood education today.

Why Your Child Doesn’t Understand Sharing

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | December 23, 2013 | Child Development | Early Education & Literacy

Little friends Noah and Evan were having a playdate, but it wasn’t going well. They both NEEDED Noah’s nice, new dump truck. Noah’s Dad heard screams of “Mine! Mine!” and went to smooth things out.

“Come on guys, you need to share the truck. Let’s see you sharing nicely.”

“It’s mine!”

“I wanna use it!”

“But it’s MINE!”

Noah’s Dad found another dump truck in the toy box. But the kids wouldn’t have it.

“But I want THAT dump truck!”

“Me too!”

Sound familiar? Sharing is a wonderful goal. We all want kind, generous children. But as I’ve said beforeexpecting young children to willingly share is a lesson in futility. It’s like expecting them to enjoy getting vaccinations – no amount of explanation can convince them it’s actually a good thing. To a young child, telling them to “share” simply means, “Give away something you want – and don’t complain about it.”

In fact, little brains are unable to fully understand the concept of “sharing”. Scientists have found that while young children may understand the general idea of sharing, their sense of empathy – and their impulse control – aren’t developed enough to stop them from keeping that dump truck all for themselves. In fact, sharing is still in “practice mode” until about age 7. And as any parent of a teenager knows, sharing and empathy are still a work in progress for much longer. So pace yourself!

In the meantime, help them take concrete steps toward sharing. First, nix the word “share” from your vocabulary. Aim to support their efforts at taking turns, but don’t jump in too quickly. Often, little ones invent their own sharing solutions – together. This helps build tolerance and patience, too.

Next time, we’ll go over more ideas for how (and when) to teach sharing to help you grow generous, kind, and friendly children. In the meantime, check out more of my sharing tips here, plus some special holiday sharing fun here. How do you teach sharing at home? Please “share” here!