Sharing is a lesson that is difficult to teach and learn — no matter how old you are. As parents, we often encourage our kids to share with their peers during play dates, classroom interactions and more. But, what are the ultimate benefits of sharing? And, how can you encourage your child to share?
Alfred Tabaks, a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks, a mental health company providing in-person and licensed therapy services nationwide, answers our questions here.
Adults often actively encourage children to share their toys, snacks, etc. because it’s the right thing to do. But, what are the other benefits of sharing?
Sharing builds community and trust. It is a point of vulnerability and sacrifice as it means you are inherently giving something up to someone else. Whether it’s sharing physically or emotionally, it builds a connection based on vulnerability and trust. As humans are communal beings, we desire connection – true connection. In order to have true connection, there needs to be a point of vulnerability and openness.
How can sharing benefit the larger community (whether it’s a group, classroom, team)?
Sharing teaches people that they can rely on each other. Not only that, but it also helps people learn that they can take care of other people. In other words, it helps those that “have” understand that they can help people who do not. Ultimately, it helps people learn that they can and should help each other. Furthermore, it also helps build trust. For example, if a child is sharing a toy and it is being borrowed by another child, the sharer is putting their trust in the other child that is borrowing the toy.
Why can sharing be so difficult to teach a child?
While humans are inherently communal, we are also inherently selfish out of desire for self-preservation. Sharing inherently puts the sharer in a “position of quantifiable loss.” If I share my money or time, for example, I have “lost” a specific amount of those things. In a way, I then have less of whatever I gave and it is difficult for us, especially in a consumerist society, to deal with the concept of having less.
What are some ways you can teach a child to share? Can you give me examples from different age groups – let’s say a toddler, 10-year-old and teenager.
Across the age spectrum, there are a few universals. Obviously, verbal praise is important. We want the individual to have an innate sense of joy and accomplishment for having shared. With younger children, you can play games that involve taking turns to teach both patience and being considerate of others. This also allows them to learn how to share some of their time with someone else.
For older children, we want to focus on the personal and societal benefits of sharing – how it helps build friendships and connections and how it allows us to help others.
One thing I would caution against is physically rewarding a child for sharing. It is important that the child does not see sharing as an act that they can earn something from. It is an inherently selfless act, so to do so out of gain will set a bad precedent.
What would you say to a child who asks why another person isn’t sharing?
Unfortunately, we are unable to definitively know why someone doesn’t share or is even unable to share. The best thing we can do is be patient and gracious with people when it comes to this. More than that, it’s also important to not be judgemental. We also need to be aware that not everyone feels comfortable giving their stuff up. Not everyone is comfortable trusting others with their things, either.
You don’t need to share with everyone. You are allowed to be selective with who you trust and build relationships with. At the end of the day, if you do not want to share, that is fine.
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