Isabella Child Development Center

A free preschool serving eligible 3 and 4 year olds

"He needs to learn how to share” is a request I often hear when families join my social classes. So you can imagine parents’ shock when I respond with: "I don’t use the word share with children.”  In fact, if you were to tell my boys to “share” they probably wouldn’t know what to do.

“Share” is an abstract word. It has different meanings in different contexts. Yet, adults typically use it as a command for a child to give up the toy with which s/he is playing. No wonder kids hate to share!

If a child has to hand over a toy to another child, they are taking a turn. If they divide a pile of blocks in half so both children can play, they divided. Different meanings, depending on the “shareable” object.

In order to make “sharing” concrete, we identify what action is appropriate within our current context.

In early childhood, “taking turns” is probably the most common way to share and the hardest for children to navigate. When I coach children it goes like this:

“Johnny, can I have a turn with the shovel?”
“No. I’m still using it.”
“Ok. Can I use it when you’re done?”

If we ask children a question, we have to accept their answer. When a child says “no”, it’s our job to help the other child wait. And waiting is hard.

Expecting a child, or any person, to hand over an object they are currently using is a boundary-crossing, unrealistic expectation in most cases. My husband doesn’t ask “Can I use your knife?” while we’re prepping dinner and expect me to hand it over mid-chop. He either waits until I’m done using it OR finds another knife to use. Same principle applies to children and toys.

From my personal and professional observations, parents often overemphasize “sharing” during playdates or classes because they fear judgement from other parents. In our culture “sharing” tends to be synonymous with “kind” and “generous”, but we can teach our children to be kind and generous without trampling over their personal boundaries.

Caley Kukla, Play With Purpose, LLC