Help me Sara: My kid doesn't want to share

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist on September 10, 2012
My son has a difficult time sharing. When we have friends over, he often grabs his toy away from another child and this embarrasses me. I try to encourage him to share his toys, but he doesn’t want to. Any advice?

Answer:

Don’t worry. Just because your child doesn’t want to share his toys, you’re not a bad parent. Here’s how to handle it as your child grows:

Toddlers and preschoolers

Young children, especially, are typically territorial about their possessions. You’ve likely heard many four-year-olds exclaim “mine” while clutching his or her latest acquisition. When around other parents, we often feel embarrassed and have a tendency to scold our child. We might say something like “it’s nice to share your toys. Let your friend have a turn.” This may feel like the “right” thing to say to prove your commitment to teaching your child right from wrong, but there may be another way. Try something like “I know it’s hard to share your toys. You want them all to yourself,” and then work with your child to find a toy that she is comfortable sharing with her friend.

School age children

As children grow, they will likely find it easier to give up some control over their stuff. Some children are naturally more giving and less concerned with others touching or sharing their possessions. How parents model giving and sharing can also have an impact. Other times, it has more to do with a child’s temperament. It’s normal for children to want to maintain some control over their life and possessions, so work out a solution with your school-aged child that will create some room for change. For example, you may suggest that he put aside those items that he absolutely does not want to share in a part of his room that is not visible to others. The same is true between siblings.

Teenagers

If your teenager is still having a difficult time sharing, this may indicate something more concerning. If, for example, your 13-year-old doesn’t want others moving his or her possessions or creating any kind of disorder beyond the way that they have been set up, this may be a sign of anxiety or obsessive compulsive behaviour or even a reaction to some other trauma or stress. This may require some therapeutic intervention to resolve.

Bottom line

Respect your child’s need to hold some material items back from others, especially when they are new or have more actual or perceived value. Continue to model sharing and caring, offer suggestions and ask for your child’s input when resolving ongoing issues around sharing. And, if your child continues to show an adverse reaction to sharing with others, even as a teen, consider what else this might be indicating.


Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2012.

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