How to Deal With a Child Who Won’t Share

by Deborah Gilboa, Family Physician
Originally Published: 
Two small girls playing together and pinching each other's cheeks.

Got a child who won’t share? Join the club.

Sharing is hard! Also, sharing runs against a child’s basic instinct. To be honest, sharing runs counter to human nature in general. I know if there is one scoop of ice cream left at my house, I don’t want to share it with anyone. Seriously, when a human’s first job is to survive, sharing food, water, shelter with anyone except our offspring really just is not an instinct we were given.

Sharing is important; it makes the world a much better place, and leads to all kinds of skills you want your child to have as an adult, including how to keep a friend or help someone less fortunate.

So how can you get your child to go against their own instincts and share? By making it worth their while. Like so many other skills we teach our kids (waiting in line, cleaning up after themselves, getting up for school, being nice to a sibling), sharing is something they eventually do because we require it of them. They will rarely WANT to share. So don’t make that your goal or you’re in for some serious disappointment.

Your goal is for your child to consider others’ desires and still speak up for him or herself. Some tips:

1. Make your expectation clear. “Today at the park, we are going to have fun, and also share the equipment.”

2. Make the consequences clear. “As long as you can give other people a turn, and not grab, we can stay at the park for an hour!”

3. Make the results clear. “I am so proud of how well you took turns on the swing! We are leaving early, though, because you grabbed that boy’s shovel in the sandbox and didn’t give it back when I asked you to.”

Your child will get the idea. Sharing is worth it in the above example, because it helps with the bigger goal, to stay at the playground. Consequences, by the way, are why adults continue to share even when we don’t feel like it. When I eat all the ice cream, my husband won’t share his popcorn with me!

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