Easy Ways To Teach Your 5 Year Old Child How to Share

Reviewed by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

Knowing how to teach kids to share is an important part of the parenting job description.

It’s a skill that needs to be taught. 

Some children quickly grasp the concept of sharing whilst others can find it very hard.

Babies and toddlers are typically good at sharing. It’s when they are forming social relationships with others around ages four, five and six that young children will learn that sharing is part of everyday life and not always easy to do!

Let’s look at some easy strategies for teaching your child how to share.

a little boy holding tight to a soft toy rabbit

Moral Development in 5 Year Olds and Understanding of Sharing

Five year-olds are at a critical stage of emotional and moral development and the concept of sharing can be tricky to grasp with results being hit or miss.  

There are opportunities for learning important life skills at this age. 

For example, compassion, empathy, a sense of fairness or justice, perspective and social interaction. 

Sharing is an important skill that takes into account the child’s own feelings and the needs of others. 

Babies and pre-toddlers tend to parallel play (play alongside others rather than with them).

It’s here that the art of sharing sows its seeds. They see, hear and feel shared experience learning important life skills along the way.

a little boy playing with toy bricks sitting opposite another child

Sharing Special Toys

Most little people have a favourite toy or a prized possession.   

Knowing how to teach kids to share special toys can be challenging. 

Children often place meaning and attachment to toys. It might be something that has been with them from birth, or seen them through childhood illnesses such as a teddy bear. 

By the time children have some independence and a sense of their own needs, sharing requires nurture and guidance.

They may have a hard time sharing. Here are some ideas of how to teach kids to share special or new toys.

  1. Set clear expectations. If they are having friends over for a playdate, talk to them about sharing and taking turns with toys and games.
  2. Practice sharing. Encourage your child to share special toys with younger siblings or other members of the family. Practise taking turns and show them how co-operation works when playing games together.
  3. Time-limits. Perhaps your child is a little inflexible about sharing? Try introducing the concept of time limits for sharing so that they are reassured of having their special toy back after a fixed time. This can help to reduce any feelings of anxiety.
  4. Model sharing behaviour. Share your own belongings with others in front of your child. Your child’s possessions will be meaningful and important to them. By seeing that it’s OK and appropriate to share belongings collaboratively, you’ll be helping them to feel confident to do the same.
two little girls playing together with hula hoops on a sunny day

Children Sharing at School

Through play, structured activities and with positive reinforcement, children can develop their social skills through social interactions with others. 

But at the age of five, they will need a lot of “scaffolding” – gentle direction and guidance from school staff.

Don’t expect them to be perfect all the time. They’re still learning.

When they do share, they will start to notice external rewards like praise, and internal rewards like feeling really good.

When a child shares a particular toy or takes turns in games, lots of positive things happen.

  • They build social relationships and learn what does and doesn’t work
  • They learn co-operation. Taking turns can encompass negotiating and compromising, waiting and being patient.
  • It can enhance empathy. They learn that reciprocity can be mutually beneficial.  
  • Builds problem solving skills. Sharing doesn’t always go to plan! Conflict or disagreements can still ultimately be learning experiences with the support of teachers and peers.

Co-operative Games To Encourage Sharing

A really great way of teaching kids collaboration and sharing over competition. 

Here are some examples of co-operative games and activities for this age group that can teach valuable lessons in communication and social skills.

1. Story Challenge

Sit together, perhaps in a circle. 

Lead by starting a story of around 2 sentences.

Each child takes a turn at adding to the story using the narrative that came before it.

Outcome: Encourages listening skills, patience, co-operation and collaboration.

2. Obstacle Course

Use items at home in the garden or in the local playground.

Build a course and encourage the children to work together to overcome the obstacles and help each other out over the tricky bits.

Outcome: Develops communication and empathy skills.

3. Toy Swaps

With siblings or at a playdate, encourage children to bring a toy that they are willing to swap in the group.

Sit in a circle and take turns passing the item around so that each child has a turn at playing with every toy.

Outcome: Develops sharing skills, and working in a team.

little girl holding out a clay model of a bird

4. Modelling Clay

At a playdate or party, give each child a piece of clay and some tools to share in the middle of the table. 

Encourage them to make something they would be happy to give to someone else in the group to play with afterwards. 

Use words of praise for a good job done.

Outcome: Develops negotiation skills (for tools), patience, collaboration.

Positive Reinforcement

Praising positive behaviour (positive reinforcement) is an essential part of parenting. 

It’s something that should be commonplace, but might take a lot of practise.

I’ve outlined some effective strategies to help you apply positive reinforcement in a healthy way.

1. Use Descriptive Praise

This highlights not only the action, but the positive impact of their actions for them and others.

How can you do this?

If you notice your child sharing their food at snack time, you could say “That’s so very kind of you to share with your buddy, I’m very proud of you.”

2. Use Positive Language

When you want to see sharing behaviour from your child, always stick to using positive language. 

How can you do this?

Instead of saying something like “No, you can’t do that, it’s naughty”, say “It’s much nicer when you share your Lego with friends, everyone has fun building new things”.

two children playing in a sandpit

3. Use Rewards and Incentives

Children of all ages might need some extra encouragement to share. 

Rewards don’t have to cost much or anything at all, but they do need to be meaningful and most importantly, achievable.

How can you do this?

Organise a sticker chart in a theme that resonates (e.g. a cartoon character or animal).

Have praise points for good sharing behaviour and qualities which include intent and effort, as well as action.

Modelling Sharing With Your 5 Year Old

The best way on how to teach kids to share is by being a good example yourself.

If you share things with your child from a young age they will see this as normal and accepted behaviour. 

TAKE THE QUIZ!

Teaching Your Child To Share: My Own Experience as a Parent

When my own children were a young age, I showed them how sharing worked in many different ways. 

Here are some examples:

  • I would let my youngest help with the task of opening the post or cards at Christmas. This involved sharing the task with their older siblings.
  • I would share special items on my dressing table. This would lead to lovely conversations about why things were special and how well I needed to look after them. 
  • When sharing I would tell them why I was sharing. “I’m giving you half of my cake because I know it’s your favourite!”
  • When we played board games (and we played a lot..!!), I encouraged patience. I reinforced rules around turn-taking, being kind and showing gamesmanship whether they won the game or not.

Older children can help to set good examples for younger siblings.

So if you start early with supporting the development of good sharing skills, these will trickle down through the family hierarchy.

Your Child’s Unique Needs: Try Not To Compare

Appreciating that sharing skills develop at different rates and recognising individual differences in children will help to avoid comparisons and pressure loading.

You may have a child who is really great at sharing and considers other peoples feelings.  They may have a sibling who finds it very hard.

So, how might you deal with this?

It’s important to remember to focus on individual children’s progress around sharing. 

Try to celebrate the small wins and praise the effort, even when the outcomes aren’t ideal.  

Impulse Control and Sharing

For some children, especially those who are neurodivergent, impulse control can be really tricky.  Emotional regulation and self-discipline may need extra support from you.  

Can you get your child to name their emotions

This would give you the opportunity to each them how to express and manage their emotions in a way that also considers others in a sharing scenario.

Selective Sharing in Children

Selective sharing often reflects a child’s emerging development of understanding boundaries, privacy and how friendships and other relationships work. 

Often, children will share, but may choose something of less importance to them, while protecting something more precious.

This is okay. It’s understandable that if a possession is very precious, your child may worry that it will be broken, lost or damaged if they share it.

In the long-run, with understanding and patience from you, your child can learn how to share a little more, at their own pace.

This will help them navigate relationships and social interactions in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling.

Learning to Share – Five Year-Old Christopher (Case Study)

Christopher is a funny 5 year old little boy who loves his toy truck collection. He has about 20 of them. 

The Yellow one with blue stripes has monster wheels and big lights on the front that are battery powered. It is his favourite toy!

Christopher spends hours in the playroom creating stories with his collection. Sending them on errands, parking them up, washing them and polishing them until they sparkle.

Christopher has a little brother, Monty, who has just started walking. 

One day, Monty is in the playroom playing with his building bricks. He toddles over to Christopher and starts playing with a small truck.

Christopher starts to feel anxious. He doesn’t want Monty touching his things, so he scoops them up in his arms and places them the other side of him. 

Monty sees the big yellow truck and points to it holding his hand out. Christopher refuses to let him have it and in the heat of the moment, pushes Monty away causing him to fall over on his bottom.  

As Monty cries, Mum comes in from the kitchen to find out what has happened. Christopher tells mum he doesn’t want Monty playing with the yellow truck or any of his toys as they are all in special places and belong to him.

Mum knows that Christopher sometimes has trouble sharing toys and possessions. He is hyper-focussed when he plays, almost losing himself in the world he has created. When he’s interrupted he gets anxious and doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions.  

Mum knows that at the age of 5 years old, the emerging development of Christopher’s emotional skills need a lot of encouragement and support. 

She explains to Christopher that it’s kind to share and that it’s important to consider other’s feelings. She says she understands the yellow truck is very special and it’s hard to share special things.

However, she tells him that pushing or hitting is never an acceptable response towards others and that it will lead to negative consequences if he repeats this behaviour. Mum tells Christopher what they would entail.

Today, Christopher must apologise to Monty and allow him to play with his yellow truck. Mum promises that she will watch over Monty and ensure that he keeps the truck safe.

Reluctantly, he complies. 

Monty only looks at the special yellow truck for a few seconds and starts to play with other ones. Monty starts pushing the trucks and playing alongside Christopher and they make a new game together.

Later, Mum tells the boys that they are all going out for a special ice cream treat. Mum tells them both that she was really proud of them both to see them playing nicely together and sharing toys and turns.

With gentle encouragement, guidance and positive reinforcement, Christopher gets better and better at sharing and even starts to teach Monty what it’s all about! 

a five year old boy proudly holding a yellow toy truck

Easy Ways To Teach Your Child How to Share

It’s important to know how to teach kids to share and I hope you’ve found some inspiration in this article.

When a child learns to share, they can improve their friendships and social connections, build self-confidence and learn life-long skills including empathy and kindness. 

It will take time and practice, so remember to be patient with the process.  

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Hayley Vaughan-Smith is a Person-Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care for four years.

Hayley is mum to 3 grown up girls, and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.


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