Playschoolers playing

Hand over your most favorite item. Sound good? No? That's what an order to "share" from a parent sounds like to a preschooler. Fortunately, there are gentle ways to encourage sharing.

Sharing is caring, but
it doesn't come easy

Preschoolers are usually pretty new to sharing, and it's a concept that doesn't come naturally — after all, as toddlers, they were very much of the "mine" mindset. Sharing is an important building block your child will need as she moves through life, but it can be a hard road. These tips can help.

Encourage taking turns

Your child has something another child desperately wants. Your kiddo's natural reaction is to clamp down on it to within an inch of its life, but the moment has arrived to encourage and teach her to share. At 3 years old, children are generally mature enough to understand taking turns, but it's not only one child you have to teach — it's also the other child who needs a lesson. Model taking turns with your child and then branch out to the other little one. Keep the times of possession short so the kids know that the toy will eventually come back to them.

Offer "shareable" toys

Sharing toys is difficult when there is but one piece to go around. One child has to wait his turn, and preschool-aged children only have a limited amount of patience. Just a few extra ticks of the clock can drive a kid to the brink of madness. It's easier to head off disastrous fits when the kids play with toys that are easy to share, like LEGO DUPLO. Their Creative Bucket (LEGO, $30) has plenty of pieces to go around, and not only can you divide them up between your young charges, but sharing them can lead to cooperative, open-ended and imaginative play. These types of toys are especially useful in a household full of young children.

Model sharing yourself

Use your own interactions as teachable moments. If someone asks to borrow something of yours, whether it be your favorite dress or your e-reader, hand it over in view of your little one and explain what you are doing. For example, say, "I'm sharing this with Aunt Cindy because I know that it will make her happy, and later, she will give it back to me."

Your preschooler may not pay attention in the beginning, but with ample explanation, she will begin to understand how sharing relates to her own life. When it comes time to share with her siblings or friends, remind her of the time you lent your brother your car and how he brought it back to you.

Know when to back off

You can feel loads of pressure to share when you're in a group setting such as a regularly scheduled playgroup. It's unfair, however, to force your child to share. She will resent you and the child who is now playing with a toy she coveted instead of internalizing a much-desired lesson. To head off potential stare-downs, suggest that each parent in your playgroup bring a toy so the children will understand that in order to play with someone else's item, they must allow access to their own.

Sharing is a learned skill that must be worked on through the months and years, but as long as you keep your child's unique traits in mind and model the correct behavior, he will catch on.

Tell us:

When did your child learn to share successfully?

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