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Sentinel Digital Desk

"Come on, let her use your crayons to draw her picture", "Oh, why don't you ever share your toys with your friends?" is what we often say as parents. "No, no, this is my doll, don't touch it", "Why are you taking my book, you can't read it", "Ma, she's playing with my toy, tell her she can't have it" is what our children often say when they are with friends… as usual, it goes on and on—this list is endless, as are the yelling, the grabbing, the fights and the tears. Well, that's what growing up is all about, isn't it ? No sooner have we smoothed out one squabble that another crazy one erupts like a volcano. Why don't our children know how to share? Well, its not that they don't know; they do. Its just that they aren't very consistent about doing it.

Our three or four year olds may spend hours a day playing with other children, they can take turns in games, and they're less self-centred than they were a year or two ago. But they're still impulsive and don't have a very good grasp of time, so waiting while their playmates take turns with a coveted toy is challenging for them. On the other hand, many preschoolers love to draw pictures for teachers, make presents for parents and share snacks with friends. Children are just learning that it feels good to give and that it's fun to share with friends. At this stage of their lives, we can sow the seeds of sharing by encouraging these displays of generosity and by gently discouraging our little ones when they show their less-charitable impulses.

Generating generosity leads our children to learn how to share. They do need help from us, and we need to think about what we can do to guide them in the right direction.

Right at the beginning, we need to make sharing fun. When we teach them cooperative games in which players work together toward a common goal, the need for sharing just flows in, and they enjoy the togetherness and laughter that comes with it. Doing puzzles together, taking turns adding pieces, for instance. Sharing projects too: watering the plants, sweeping the floor, or unpacking the shopping with them. Finally, give them things to share with friends now and then, like a special snack for school or a roll of stickers to have fun with during playtime.

It helps our children if we don't punish stinginess. If we constantly tell our children that they are selfish, discipline them when they don't share, or force them to hand over a prized possession, we foster resentment, not generosity. To encourage sharing, we need to use positive reinforcement rather than admonishment. Keep in mind, too, that it's OK for our children to hold back certain items. As they mature, they'll learn that sharing with friends – who are becoming increasingly important to them – is more fun than keeping things to themselves.

The important attitude is to remember to talk it up. When children squabble over toys, help them work out what's really going on. If a friend is holding something back, we need to explain to our children how his playmate might be feeling. For instance: "Your friend really likes that toy, and he doesn't want anyone to play with it right now. Why don't you play with another one now?" We need to help our preschoolers put their own feelings into words too. When they're not being especially generous, we should ask them what's wrong. Maybe we'll discover that there's a shortage of train tracks at the nursery or that they especially prize a particular toy because they were a present from a special uncle for a special occasion.

I think the best way to guide our children is to lead by example. The best way for our three or four year old to learn generosity is to witness it. So we should share our favourite snack with them. When we offer a piece of jewellery for a special day, and ask if we can borrow their scarf for ours, a beautiful feeling is developed and shared. We should use the word share to describe what we are doing, and not forget to teach them that intangibles (like feelings, ideas and stories) can be shared too. Most important, let them see we give and take, compromise and share with others.

And last but definitely not the least is for us to respect things that belong to our little ones. If they feel that their clothes, books, and toys are being manhandled, it's unlikely that they'll give them up even for a moment. So we should ask permission before we borrow their coloured pencils, and give them the option of saying no. Make sure that siblings, friends and babysitters respect their things too, by asking if they can use them and by taking care of them when they do.

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