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Parent's Guide

Teaching Children to Share

"Mine!!!" Sure, we're big fans of private property. But that attitude probably won't make junior the most popular kid on the playground. Why is it that some children have a natural inclination to share their toys and other possessions with other children, while others are much more...possessive?

A recent study from the University of Zurich in Switzerland studied the behavior of 229 children who were given the opportunity to share with another child who had less. They found that children between ages three and eight were markedly more reluctant to share - that is, make the allocation more equal - with other children aged nine and older. But after age nine, the study found that children become more interested in reducing inequality.

Parents, on the other hand, have found over the years that children who receive less than others also develop an exquisitely fine-tuned sense of fairness - one that is not necessarily shared by those given more.

Funny how some things don't change as we get older!

We want children to be assertive and willing to stick up for themselves. And we want them to appreciate and value the things they are given. But we also want them to develop instincts for kindness, charity, empathy, and fairness. So what can you do to help? Here are some ideas:

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Set clear time limits, and understand the child understands "when the big hand on the clock points to six, it's time to give it back."
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When other children come to play, set some toys aside if they may potentially create conflict.
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Point out and compliment sharing behavior in other children or people when you see it.
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Praise your child when you see her sharing.
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Model sharing behavior.
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Mitigate the fear of loss. It's easier to share from a position of perceived abundance than scarcity. That doesn't mean you need to spoil the child though.
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Donate to a charity. Some charities send you a picture of a child from the village benefiting from the charity to put on the refrigerator. Include your child in writing letters to these children who are benefiting. Help your child take pride in helping and sharing with others.


There's no substitute for setting a personal example...and making sure everyone else in your child's life is, as well. Children do what they see others do, so take advantage of that and set the standard yourself.

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