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Parenting Press: When Can Children Learn to Share?

Tip—Your child can’t understand “thine” until he understands “mine.”

Once you have more than one child, sharing becomes a daily issue. An only child doesn’t really need to share his toys unless a friend comes over. Siblings must deal with each other every day. We’re all familiar with the child who is possessive with his toys and worries about his little brother touching them when he’s away at preschool. One of our authors remembers her son at age 4, asking anxiously that his toddler sister not touch his small, wooden animals while he was at a friend’s house—never mind that she hadn’t ever touched them or even shown any interest in them.

Tools—Parent educator Elizabeth Crary, author of 365 Wacky, Wonderful Ways to Get Your Children to Do What You Want, points out that sharing is a fairly sophisticated skill. “True sharing takes several years to develop,” she says. “Children go through five stages.”

Link to book description

1.Everything is “mine.” You know this stage, it usually emerges strongly by age 2 or so.

2.“Not mine” is different from mine. At this stage, children can understand that not everything is “mine,” but they don’t yet comprehend to whom those things belong

3.“Not mine” things have owners. Now children have an understanding of “mine” and “thine.” If it’s “not mine” then it has an owner.

4.Owners may lend items. This is a big step forward. When a child has some understanding of time—i.e., waiting turns, “now” and “never,”—then she can understand that the owner of a toy may choose to lend it to her temporarily.

5.“Ours” is joint ownership. At this point, true sharing can really happen. Two siblings can have joint ownership of a common item and understand how to share it fairly. They are more likely to share bathroom use, toys, and parental time when they have progressed through these five stages.

Crary advises talking with your child about the level he or she is on and the next level up. Trying to skip a level will only take more time in the long run. Freedom from toy battles takes a long time.

You’ll find more practical tips you can use right now in 365 Wacky, Wonderful Ways to Get Your Children to Do What You Want by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.

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