By Shirley King
All parents would like their children to share. As parents, we can help instill in our children a sense of what psychologist Alfred Adler called “social interest” -a concern for others that is larger and more desirable than the feeling of “what’s in it for me?”
In Raising a Responsible Child, Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay write, “The child with social interest is cooperative and respects the rights of others. He has a sense of his worth and a feeling of belonging.”
Before young children can learn to share, they need to go through a developmental phase of ownership. To be able to fully share, they first need to be able to fully own. A toddler senses that his toys are actually a part of himself. “Mine!” he demands. Children need four or five years of possessing things as their own before they’re ready to move on to sharing. Often parents, in
their zeal to do the right thing, push their children into sharing before they’re developmentally ready. If we wait a few years, respecting their right to fully own, we’ll often be surprised at how giving our children can be.
At the same time that we are waiting for our children to grow into sharing, there are several things we can do to help prepare the way. We can begin to show our children the joy of giving. For example, as Daddy’s birthday is approaching, I can say, “Oh, I’m really happy right now thinking about how pleased and excited Daddy will be when he sees his new hammer.” We can emphasize how good the other person is feeling, or will feel, when we give. We can help them to notice the happiness that is there when we give to others.
There are many opportunities throughout the day, every day, to encourage our children when they are sharing and giving. Noticing positive behavior is a great way to encourage more of it.
Also, our children will see when we give to others. When we bring cookies to a friend or relative, we can let our kids come along with us and say, “I feel happy and good inside knowing Sarah will enjoy these.” Our children learn by watching us. We can ask ourselves, “Am I caring and giving?” If not, we might want to think about ways in which we can increase our giving. This positive role modeling is an incredible and powerful answer to the question of how to help our kids learn to share with others.