Q: Dear Polly, Some of the children in my preschool class are having a lot of trouble with sharing, both with things that we have in the classroom and things they bring in from home. Now it's as though the "no-sharing" few are influencing the children who would ordinarily be inclined to share — they're beginning to not want to share, either! It's causing a lot of arguments and tears. What should I do?

A: Babies, toddlers, and twos often share very generously — until the maturation of their minds makes it possible for them to realize that when you give, you have less; that what's given is gone; and that when you give someone else a turn, you can't use it. From then on, sharing becomes much more difficult. Most grownups don't share well, either. Some adults give to church or charities, but when was the last time someone said to you, "Here you go. I've had my new car for a week; now you take a turn for a week"?

We are educators. Our job is to educate. Punishing children with scathing tones, insulting words, or even an exchange of glances that means, "Not again!" is inappropriate. Teaching involves motivating and encouraging learning. We can be positive:

  1. "You get to serve! You can't eat all the popcorn. It's for you and Tommy and Sarah, and lucky you, you get to serve!" (Be enthusiastic. Bury the "no you can't" in the middle, and emphasize the good news.)
  2. "You and Angela both want to play with the sand toys. There are six sand toys. You take one. Good. Now, Angela, you take one. Very good. Now, Zach, another, and Angela, another. Now, Zach, one more, and Angela, one more. You are such good, sharing kids! How many do you have, Zach? Let's count them together. How many sand toys do you have, Angela? Oh, this is so lucky. You each have three!" (Compliments, compliments, compliments. Build children's self-image as a fair person in the way you handle specific incidents when they arise.)
  3. "There's only one bike, so children can take turns." (Avoid being negative. Avoid saying, "You ‘have to' take turns." "You ‘can' take turns" affirms the child's abilities, whereas ‘have to,' is an order, and is likely to bring out the balk in children.) "Mark, you may use the bike for five minutes, and I'll tell you when that is. Then, Sarah, you will have the bike for five minutes. You can do (XYZ) while you're waiting for your nice, long turn."

Sharing can be a difficult concept for young children — and for some adults, too.  So we shouldn't be too hard on little tykes who'd rather keep it than share it.