“It’s mine!” shouts your preschooler, as he reaches to pull a truck from the hands of a friend, and you find yourself once again in negotiations with a pair of 4-year-olds. You love planning play dates for your child, but you’ve had just about enough of the refereeing that comes with the territory.
There are days when your child can spend hours playing with friends, taking turns with a toy or in games. But then, he will be impulsive, as preschoolers can be, and you find yourself repeating the same phrases over and over about being a good sharer.
Preschoolers don’t have a very good sense of time, which means waiting two minutes for a turn to play with their favorite toy can be maddening. And yet, you know how much he loves sharing with grandparents pictures he’s drawn, bringing a special snack to share with preschool buddies, or making cookies to surprise his babysitter. He’s familiar with – and enjoys – the idea of sharing. He just hasn’t fully grasped that he needs to be consistent with it yet.
You may grow weary of playing referee, but you can’t turn in your striped shirt and whistle yet. You can, however, move your child toward a better understanding of sharing by encouraging generosity and discouraging less-kind behavior.
Make it fun.
Cooperative games help preschoolers learn to work together toward a common goal. Take turns adding pieces to a puzzle or building a block tower. Complete projects together such as setting a table or baking cookies. Give your child things to share with friends, such as a special snack or a sheet of stickers.
Use positive reinforcement.
Criticizing your preschooler or calling him selfish will create resentment rather than encourage generosity. Correct the behavior, but be patient and encourage good behavior when you see it. Your child will eventually learn that it’s more fun to share than play by himself.
Help your child understand how a friend might be feeling. “Eric doesn’t have a truck like that at home, and he really wants to play with it right now.” Help your preschooler put his feelings into words as well.
Teach the fine art of problem-solving.
In the throes of battle, when a preschooler can only think win or lose the toy in question, the idea of sharing may not have even crossed your child’s mind. Encourage turn-taking by setting a kitchen timer. Remind your child that “sharing with” doesn’t meant “giving away to” – and that the more you share with others, the more likely they will share with you.
Before a play date, ask your child if there’s a toy she’d rather not share. Find a place where she can put those special toys, then ask her to pick out some fun things to play with together. She’ll be in the sharing frame of mind by the time her play date arrives.
Be a sharing example.
Our children learn what we model. Offer to share your snack with your child, or to make her a princess shawl from one of your scarves. Use the word share to describe what you’re doing. Be an example of respect, as well. Ask your child permission before borrowing a colored pencil, and be sure siblings and others do the same. Let her see you compromise, talk out feelings and share with others.