Lord help me, Millie has mastered a ‘look’.

When I ask her to share something of value to her — a feather, an old shirt of mine in the dress-up box, even a dried-up sultana; if another toddler suddenly sees the worth of what’s in her hand and I ask Millie to ‘share’ — I get “The Look”.

The look is a mix between ‘don’t mess with me, mother’, and ‘if I share this six-month-old shrivelled up piece of fruit candy with that other small human then I will surely die of separation anxiety, you will need to surgically remove it from my hand’.

Or this.

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I’ve found myself making excuses for “The Look” or her lack of sharing skills. Excuses like ‘she’s an only child, she’s not used to sharing her things’ or ‘she’s going through a non-sharing stage; we’re working through it’ and ‘oh, goodness, I don’t know where she get’s that from, maybe she takes after her father’.

It’s to the point that one of  Millie’s Kindy reports actually said: ‘Millie struggles with sharing. We are teaching her how good it feels to share.’ I’m positive that was a passive aggressive way of saying ‘what the hell are you doing at home with your selfish kid?!’

I ‘shared’ that news with a fellow mum and asked for some advice. Her advice was not what I was expecting. She said verbatim: “BS! Why do we have to teach kids to share so much? I don’t want to share my husband, or my jewellery, or my house. Why should they share what’s important to them?”

That was an a-ha moment for me. Sure, a feral old feather probably fostering bird flu is no diamond ring to me, but to my child it’s a found treasure and who am I to demand that she ‘share’ her current prized possession?

So what should the rules of sharing be?

Meg Parkinson from Thrive Parenting says children don’t need to share everything at all, and in fact has some tips that turn the age old rules of sharing on their head.

Value your kids’ special things

One of the best ways to encourage sharing is to let children know they don’t have to. They don’t have to share EVERYTHING. It can actually teach us to be more responsible for our possessions if we have a sense of ownership. Having things we value that are our own can give a sense of belonging and importance. Most adults don’t want to and are not expected to share everything. We choose what we are prepared to share.

Divide items to share and not to share

Get your child or children to sort their toys, pens, games etc. into groups of things your child does not want to share at all and things he or she is happy to share. Let them put all the ‘not sharing’ toys and possessions in a special place. Let everyone know which toys are for sharing and which ones aren’t.

Explain that this is a flexible arrangement, it does not mean that they will always have to share the toys in the sharing group or that they can never share the ‘only for me’ possessions. At the beginning you might try re-sorting the groups each week or each fortnight. You might even notice more things turning up in the sharing group after a while.

Share with them

The way we share our things with children is a great way to teach them. When you are sharing with a child, say things like, ‘I’d like to share my iPad/computer/cooking utensils/gardening tools with you. You can use it/them for 20 minutes or until I call you for afternoon tea.’ Make your expectations clear about how you want the things you are sharing treated and returned.

Sharing isn’t just material things

Teach children that sharing is not limited to material items. You can practice sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings. For some children this is easier than sharing material items at first and you can ‘honestly’ give them positive encouragement for being a good sharer. Say things such as, “You just told me a great story about kindy today, you are getting really good at sharing.”

Talk about sharing in reflection

Notice and mention when your child does share their things happily. Say ‘I just saw you sharing with x; you are getting much better at sharing’. Have daily ‘sharing’ experiences, including the feelings associated with them. At dinner, share your experiences and the children share theirs.

Take collateral 

If your child likes to borrow but doesn’t look after other peoples’ things or doesn’t return them on time, and therefore finds that others are less keen to share with them, use something of theirs as collateral. I do this with students at school and it can be quite fun. For instance if a child wants to borrow my calculator, I will ask them to give me their shoes until they return my calculator.

No one is a bad sharer, you learn it

And lastly, something not to say. Do not label children as ‘bad sharers’ or ‘selfish’ for not sharing. Sharing is a learnt skill, don’t let the lesson be ‘there is no hope for me and sharing’. Children labelled as selfish can carry that into adulthood and end up sharing too much out of guilt.

That last point is probably why I shared a previous boyfriend for a few more years than I should have. Excellent advice, Meg! For now, Millie can keep her feral feathers and tasty old ‘tanas to herself — and in the process, the diseases they probably carry, too.

Do your children have trouble sharing? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below!