Sharing is one of the hardest skills for children to master, but it is also one of the most vital Someone once said that play is the work of children. It is through play that children learn to master the complexities of the world. One major complexity they are expected to work out early in their lives is sharing. If we look at it from a child's point of view, they may well be asking themselves why they should share their toys with their playmates when their parents and other adults don't have to share their mobile phones and cars with others. It can be puzzling to a child. If children shared, play dates and playschool would be a breeze for the adults who organise them. We all want our children to play well with other children regardless of their social or ethnic background. We worry about how they get along with other people, and want them to have friends. After all, it's no secret that those who are socially competent tend to be more successful in life. 'The ability to relate to and accept people who are different is not just a desired trait, it is a necessity for living in a diverse society,' says early childhood consultant Thomas Moore, co-author of the book Do You Know the Muffin Man? Sharing is one of the most challenging social skills for a child to learn. It takes time, and should not be forced on a child. Rather, it should be allowed to blossom with encouragement and praise from caregivers. Children need to understand the concept of ownership before they can grasp the concept of sharing. When a child understands that a person can own an object, lend it to someone else and then ask for it to be returned, they will be more willing to part with it because they know they will get it back. Experts agree that young children are developmentally not ready to share. From the ages of about two to three, children go through a 'mine' and 'me' stage. They gain a sense of self that is separate from their parents or caregivers. They begin to recognise their validity not just as a separate person but also as a person with possessions. This is a good time for caregivers to explain and reinforce the idea of ownership. One way to encourage sharing is to allow time for a child to complete his inner process when playing with a toy or object. When he has completed a task and feels his needs have been met, he will be more willing to share. A good way to mediate a sharing situation would be: 'Mei Fun, please let Alan have a go at your doctor's set when you are ready. Alan, Mei Fun will lend you her doctor's set as soon she is done with it.' When Mei Fun plays with her doctor's set, in her mind she is totally involved in making her patients feel more comfortable. If she is forced to abandon this task before she is finished, we send her the message that what she is doing is not as important as others' needs, and risk hurting her self-esteem. We will probably also have an angry and frustrated child on our hands. Children are sometimes unable to see how they could do more if they pooled resources with their playmates, so parents can help by pointing this out. To encourage sharing, caregivers can say something like: 'If you give her half of your blue paint and she gives you half of her red paint, you can both make purple.' Words of praise and appreciation are important when a child shares of his own accord. A simple 'thank you for sharing' can go a long way towards encouraging a child to share again in the future. Children learn by imitating their mothers and fathers, so we should not underestimate our job as role models. By sharing with others, we are showing our children appropriate behaviour.