Make sharing fun. Teach your preschooler cooperative games in which players work together toward a common goal. Do puzzles together, taking turns adding pieces, for instance. Share projects, too: Plant the garden, paint the fence, or hose down the car with him. Finally, give him things to share with his buddies now and then, like a special snack for preschool or a roll of stickers to divvy up during a playdate.
Don’t punish stinginess. If you tell your preschooler that he’s selfish, discipline him when he doesn’t share, or force him to hand over a prized possession, you’ll foster resentment, not generosity. “To encourage sharing, use positive reinforcement rather than admonishment,” Leiderman says. Keep in mind, too, that it’s okay for your preschooler to hold back certain items. As he matures, he’ll learn that sharing with friends — who are becoming increasingly important to him — is more fun than keeping things to himself.
Talk it up. When kids squabble over toys, help them figure out what’s really going on. If a friend is holding something back, explain to your child how his buddy might be feeling. For instance: “Josh really likes that toy, and he doesn’t want anyone to play with it right now.” Help your preschooler put his own feelings into words too. When he’s not acting especially generous, ask him what’s up. Maybe you’ll discover that there’s a shortage of train tracks at his preschool or that he especially prizes his Pokémon cards because they were a present from Grandpa.
Teach your preschooler to problem-solve. If your child has a death grip on a toy truck that his playmate wants, chances are he’s thinking, “It’s either him or me.” The concept of sharing the truck may not even have occurred to him. Encourage your preschooler to take turns with the truck (setting a kitchen timer to mark each child’s turn may help), reassure him that sharing isn’t the same as giving away, and point out that if he shares his toys with friends, they’ll be more inclined to share theirs with him.
Set the stage. Before a playdate, ask your preschooler if there’s anything he’d rather not share, and help him find a good place to keep those special toys. Then ask him to think of some things that would be fun for him and his visitor to play with together, such as toy walkie-talkies, art and craft supplies, building blocks, and sports equipment. That will put him in a sharing frame of mind when his guest arrives. Ask his pal to bring along a toy or two of his own as well, since your preschooler may be more generous if he’s not the only one doing the giving.
Respect your preschooler’s things. If your youngster feels that his clothes, books, and toys are being manhandled, it’s unlikely that he’ll give them up even for a moment. So ask permission before you borrow his colored pencils, and give him the option of saying no. Make sure that siblings, friends, and babysitters respect his things too, by asking if they can use them and by taking good care of them when they do.