When toddlers have play dates, territorial battles are bound to ensue. Try these approaches to help foster sharing skills in young children.
1. Start early. Kids can’t cognitively grasp the concept of sharing until age 3 or 4, but parents should set expectations and foster learning opportunities sooner.
2. Show and tell. Tots often imitate what they see others doing. When you have opportunities to share food, a toy or another activity with your child, talk about how you are sharing so he begins to associate the word with the action.
3. Pretend play. Place a puppet in each hand and have them discuss and act out sharing. Then invite your child to join in. Tea parties and play kitchens are great springboards, too.
4. Try books. Read children’s stories about sharing; then talk about past experiences. “Do you remember when you shared your toy with Eli yesterday? That’s what the children are doing in the book.”
5. Talk it up. Before play dates, remind your child how much fun it is to play with friends, and tell him he’ll need to share his toys.
6. Stash special items. Have a designated basket for special toys that don’t come out during play dates. For some children, it will be helpful to be part of the process; others won’t understand, and that’s OK too.
7. Have duplicates. Keeping more than one of a popular toy lets children play alongside of and imitate one another. It might avoid outbursts, as well.
8. Add cooperative activities. Group fun like drawing, finger painting, Play-Doh or blowing bubbles can teach sharing skills. As kids participate, talk about sharing and how well they’re playing together.
9. Include adult interaction. It may help to occasionally join in the group play to support your child in being kind and sharing. This may even stop a squabble.
10. Promote with praise. When you see your child sharing, bring it to his attention. Kids want to please their parents, so be sure to offer specific praise.
11. Set up sharing situations. Create opportunities for your child to develop empathy. Have him help you make cookies then hand them to his friends. Or encourage him to draw a picture or make a card for a friend.
12. Address major misdemeanors. If your child grabs a toy while playing, tell him he must give it back and wait for his turn. Offer an alternative toy as a distraction. If it turns into a tantrum, remove him from the situation and sit next to him until he calms down. If one child hurts another over a toy, remove it from the play area.