How many times have you seen children fighting over a favored toy or game, refusing to let the other play with it? Sharing is not something that comes naturally to children from the outset. In the animal kingdom, to share means to weaken our competitive advantage and survival skills, choosing to benefit the well-being of the pack rather than gain strength, satiety or nourishment alone. As adults, we are well-versed in the art of sharing, understanding the greater good that can come from dividing what we have and enjoying it with others, but sharing as a behavioral trait is not a natural instinct when we first start to play with children of a similar age. Because of this, many parents and teachers can see traits of apparent selfishness in younger children, and seek to correct the behavior as quickly as possible. However, it is useful to see sharing as being something which is learned, and various primal instincts for survival need to be overcome before a child learns to share willingly with playmates and peers. Overcoming the Natural Instinct Working Against Sharing The benefits of sharing can be tough to see when you are young and don’t yet have a full repertoire of social etiquette to fall back on to rationalize emotions. Telling a child that he or she needs to let another person take sweets, treats or toys is a difficult concept to explain to someone who has only just grasped the meaning of ownership. Because of the complex conceptual nature of sharing, it can take some children a while to naturally choose to offer up their possessions for other people to enjoy, and kids won’t respond well to being ‘told off’ for not doing so naturally. Instead, sharing can be taught by showing the benefits. Children who get a lot of praise when they first start to share can quickly realize that there is an incentive in offering up possessions to others. Parents and teachers who reward positive sharing behaviors will soon show to a child that there are other satisfying aspects to sharing that can overcome the initial disappointment stemming from the loss of a possession. Showing the Longer-term Benefits of Sharing Another way of promoting sharing is by giving a group of children an item and explaining that it is for all of them. A bag of sweets, for example, that can be neatly divided lets kids learn how to divide things equally, and show that by being patient and fair, every child can benefit the same from the activity. The rewards are evident, in that no child in the group is favored over another, and the lessons learned are simple but very strong. One of the best tricks for sharing that many parents use with two young children is to hand something over, such as a candy bar, and explain that while one child can split the bar, the other gets to choose which half they would like. Inevitably, the child who is charged with the task of dividing the treat is extremely precise in splitting it equally, knowing that any mistake in portion size will leave them with a lesser amount! In these ways, we show children quietly and effectively what the benefits of playing together and sharing toys can be, and demonstrate the subtler benefits of fairness and equality. While sharing may not be natural to us as children, we can soon understand that not only does it bring positive rewards ultimately, it also makes for more peaceful, happy and fair play.
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