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How To Teach An Only Child To Share (No Siblings)

“How can I teach my child to share?” is a common question at my parenting workshops.

It can be terribly embarrassing when a child refuses to share. It can turn social occasions like family visits, play dates and birthday parties into nightmares.

Many children burst into tears, throw tantrums and/or get angry and aggressive whenever they need to share their toys or other possessions with another child. And when this happens – the red-faced parents are left with no option but to offer uncomfortable apologetic smiles as they carry their children away.

Most children in the early years have to be taught how to share. But while it is slightly easier to teach children who have siblings to share – it can be quite difficult to teach an only child to share. 

Why don’t children share?

When children don’t share – we easily attach labels like spoilt, selfish, aggressive and self-centered. This is a big mistake because being able to share is a developmental milestone.

Just like – at a certain age and a certain stage of physical and mental maturation children learn to walk or talk, when certain areas of a child’s brain are developed children are able to share.

  1. Babies are born selfish
  2. Toddlers become selfish to assert their identity
  3. Toddlers have no self-control
  4. Toddlers have a poor understanding of time

1. Babies are born selfish

Babies are born selfish. Because they cannot move and cannot see beyond 12 inches, they imagine that they are the center of the world. As they grow and begin to move around – they discover that other people exist. But it still takes time for them to recognize and understand that other people also have needs just like them. That is why in the early years of life children are reluctant to share.

In case of an only child – even when she/he begins to move around and see the world – she/he may continue to think of her/himself as the center of the universe. This is because there are no other children around to compete for attention.

What can you do to make your child less selfish?

  • Give children more exposure to the world
  • Help them to develop empathy

2. Toddlers become possessive to assert their identity

As babies grow into toddlers – they develop physical and mental abilities that make them want to become independent. And one of the key ways in which they prove to themselves that they are different from others – is by identifying that certain things belong to them and them only.

Much later, over a period of time they understand that even if something belongs to them – the only way to ensure that thing brings them happiness is to share it with others while playing.

In case of an only child – the opportunities to share and discover the joy of sharing may be very few because they have no one at home to share with.

 What can you do to make your child less possessive?

  • Do not force your child to part with things she/he is possessive about
  • Lead the way by sharing your things freely
  • Create situations for meetings with other children so that your child can experience the joy of sharing

3. Toddlers do not have self-control

Children love to make others happy – but they cannot resist the urge to grab what they like. This is because the frontal cortex of their brain is not well-developed yet and they are unable to make the right decisions that will serve their own purpose while making others happy as well.

Self-control is a skill that is built with practice. For an only child who has everything available at her/his fingertips – there may be very opportunities to build self-control. There may also be fewer occasions to identify and empathise with another person’s need and do something to make the other person happy.

What can you do to help your child develop self-control?

    • Play turn taking games
    • Give your child chores

Also read 25 Chores For Your 4 Year Old Toddler : Learning Is Fun

4. Toddlers have a poor understanding of time

When toddlers are asked to share they cannot understand that they will be giving their things away for a short while. They think everything is permanent.

This feeling may be more pronounced in an only child who is used to always having access to all her/his toys.

How to help your child understand time?

  • Use a timer when you play with your child
  • Carry the timer along when you go to a play date so that your child will be reassured that the toy will be back when the timer rings

At what age do children begin to share?

Sharing comes naturally to children by the age of 6 years. However many children learn to share much earlier and many children learn to share much later than 6 years of age. This is because of the environments that they live in and the way they see their parents behaving.

Why do only children have greater difficulty sharing?

  1. They have fewer opportunities to interact with others and build empathy
  2. Since they are the only ones using things – they have fewer chances to exercise and strengthen self-control
  3. They are forced to share without warning or training in social situations like birthday parties and play dates and this frightens them from sharing.

How to teach your only child sharing?

  1. Help your child to feel the joy of giving
  2. Make sharing a way of life
  3. Help your child feel secure
  4. Don’t give children too many gifts
  5. Start with doing instead of giving
  6. Show children what others don’t have
  7. Avoid unnecessary shopping
  8. Make sharing an everyday feature of family life
  9. Teach your child courtesy and cooperation
  10. Give your child chores
  11. Teach fairness
  12. Talk about fairness and encourage problem solving
  13. Show how sharing the workload makes life more fun
  14. Praise unselfishness before you praise accomplishment
  15. Give children more social experiences
  16. Arrange for your child to play with children of the same age
  17. Stop over protecting your child
  18. Allow independence in self-care
  19. Minimize play on devices
  20. Never force your child to share

1. Help your child feel the joy of giving

Every child wants to make others around her/him happy. It is an inborn human trait to want to make people around you happy because happiness is infectious. Our instincts constantly urge us to make the people around us happy because we know that their happiness will make us happier.

Talk constantly about sharing

“Did you see how happy Aunty was when we shared our umbrella with her in the rain?”

“Shall we make some extra rotis and ask Veena didi (the household help) to join us for lunch?”

2. Make sharing a way of life

Sharing cannot be taught in a car ride to a birthday party of play date. It needs to be a way of life.

Constantly teach your child how to share

Teach your child how to share the bathroom by putting things back in their right places for the next person before coming out.

Show your child how the umbrella needs to be held to protect two people from the rain instead of one.

3. Help your child feel secure

Children who feel secure in the love of their parents, children who feel attached and connected to their parents are not be so attached to material things and are more willing to share.

Give your child your undivided attention when you interact with her him. A child with high self-esteem will not need to build her/himself up with toys and other possessions.

Give your child lots of hugs and kisses – they help in building security by conveying your love

4. Don’t give children too many gifts

Many times we make the mistake of compensating for our absence and our inability to spend quality time with our children by giving them gifts.

These gifts are given as replacement for time, attention and love and so the child begins to think of these toys as love. This leads to the child getting excessively attached to the toys and other possessions.

Sharing the toy then begins to mean sharing your love. And that is very difficult for your child.

When you come back from a work trip don’t bring back a toy or a gift to show your love. Spend time instead of money

Don’t bribe your child chocolates and other food and gifts to make them do homework etc. That makes children believe in a selfish, materialistic, manipulative way is essential to get to happiness

Also read Is it good to give children lots of gifts?

5. Start with doing instead of giving

It may be difficult for a child to share a toy or a sweet with another child, but you can help the child to experience the joy of giving by encouraging your child to do things for others.

Make a card to thank Grandma, bake a cake for a sick friend and so on. Since your child does not see these things as her/his possessions it becomes easier to help your child enjoy the experience of giving and sharing without feeling deprived. Once your child gets addicted to the joy of giving and sharing – she/he will want to do it with her/his own things as well.

6. Show children what others don’t have

Sheltered children – brought up in environments of luxury and plenty – may find it difficult to be empathetic to others needs. It is important to introduce children to gratitude and empathy by telling them how much we have that others don’t.

Visit orphanages and old age homes to share eats and spend time.

Conserve resources – teach children that they must switch off lights and turn off taps because these are shared resources and when we waste something someone else may need to go without a basic amenity.

7. Avoid unnecessary shopping

Buying without reason, impulse shopping and shopping without a list – are all practices that teach children selfishness instead of empathy and indulgence over self-control. Children from families where things are bought thoughtlessly and money is splurged unnecessarily will surely to find it difficult to share because they are more used to getting than giving,

Show your child how to make a shopping list to decide what must be bought before going to the market.

Don’t buy things just because your child is throwing a tantrum.

8. Make sharing an everyday feature of your family life

Even if you have more than enough for each member of the family – make sure there are certain things that your child has to share with other family members.

Teach your child how to share the bathroom – by putting things back in their right places for the next person. When you are reading to your child in the night or reading with your child in the night – share the light from the night lamp. Teach your child how it is fun to accommodate another person in a limited space within limited resources by sharing.

9. Teach your child courtesy and cooperation

When you have another child over to play – let the guest decide what drink and snack will be served.

Also ask your child to give the guest a chance to choose the game to be played.

10. Give your child chores

Chores teach children empathy for the person doing the chores and self-control to get the work done. Both qualities are essential prerequisites to learning to share.

Even toddlers can do many chores. Never hesitate to assign children chores

11. Teach fairness

Children have an inborn sense of fairness. Reinforce this innate sense of fairness by letting one child divide a certain food or the bricks from a building set and allow the other child to choose.

When you are playing with your child do this all the time so that your child gets used to it

12. Encourage problem solving

Jealously and rivalry are impossible to avoid and eliminate completely. Be prepared for situations of conflict and fights between children. When these happen – encourage your child to think up a solution that will be fair to everyone.

Problem solving requires self-control, decision-making and empathy – all of which are essential for sharing

13. Show how sharing the workload makes life more fun

Explain to your child repeatedly how the family functions as a unit. And how doing things for others and sharing the workload makes life more fun and fulfilling.

Discuss how – when Mom is in the kitchen she cooks for everyone – not just herself. And how on rushed days Dad and whoever else is around pitches in to help

Similarly how Dad drives and drops everyone off every morning and how mom takes over the steering wheel during very long drives – so that the family can drive further.

14. Praise unselfishness before you praise accomplishment

The only child or a child without siblings is likely to receive much more praise than other children. But before you praise your child for being intelligent or talented or beautiful – make sure you praise your child for being unselfish and cooperative.

Say – “I loved how you stopped to help your friend who had fallen down even though that meant that you didn’t finish first in the race”

15. Give children more social experience

If you have one child the chances your child has – to interact with other children are very few. During school hours children have just 30 minutes to spend with other children during the break. And during organised sports or activities – each person has his own things and is regulated by an adult. The more your child interacts with others – the more she/he will build the ability to share

16. Arrange for your child to play with children of the same age

When a child constantly plays with adults who are ready to give up or give in for the sake of keeping the peace they forget how to share. This also happens when a child plays with children who are much younger than them who can be easily dominated.

17. Stop over protecting your child

When you overprotective your child and fight for privileges for her/him all the time – it makes your child selfish. A overprotected child becomes selfish and self-centered and it becomes more and more difficult for her/him to share

18. Allow independence in self-care

When a child is dependent on parents and caregivers for all bodily needs –   the child develops a negative view of her/himself. The child’s self-esteem is lowered because of her/his inability to care for her/himself and to cover this up the child tries to find solace in the possessions that she/he has. This makes her/him more attached to his things and unable to share.      

19. Minimize play on devices

When a child plays with devices it compromises her/his social skills. The child gets used to dominating the device. The child gets used to winning all the time. The child forgets how to share and cooperate.

Take away the mobile phones laptops and tablets. Minimize TV viewing.

Also read How to reduce screen time for toddlers

20. Never force your child to share

You cannot force a child to share. So never instruct a child to share a precious possession and never punish a child for not sharing. Create an environment where your child sees you sharing all the time and is inspired to share. Also help your child to experience the joy of sharing by doing things for others and giving things to others. This will make your child want to share rather than sharing per force because you have made a rule.

It is important to teach all children to share because sharing helps you build social connections and makes life much more beautiful.

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