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What to expect at this age
Sharing is the cornerstone of generosity for 5-year-olds, and it still doesn't come easily. Kids this age focus on what it will "cost" them to share. But because their friends' approval is so important to them, they're also starting to understand the benefits of generous behavior in making and maintaining friendships. Kindergartners are learning, too, that generosity means more than just sharing toys and treats. Without parental prompting, they're beginning to realize how other people feel, at least some of the time, and they can learn that generosity includes helping those in need.
What you can do
Demonstrate generosity. Your 5-year-old takes his cues from you, and when he consistently sees you being generous he'll want to copy your behavior. Don't hesitate to explain your own unselfish decisions aloud: "I got two copies of this book for my birthday. I could bring one back to the store and get a different book. But I know my friend Anne wants to read it, so I think I'll give it to her."
Discuss other people's wants and needs. "You're trying to socialize your kindergartner to see a world bigger than himself," says Wayne Dosick, a rabbi and the author of Golden Rules: The Ten Ethical Values Parents Need to Teach Their Children. Begin by teaching him to think about friends and family members. When he says, "I want ice cream for dessert tonight!" you can reply, "I know your friend Sam likes ice cream too. We haven't seen him in a while – shall we invite him over to share some with us?"
"That way, you're not just saying, 'Hey, don't be selfish!'" says Dosick. "You're saying, in the gentlest way, 'Be aware of the needs of others.'"
Show that you disapprove of selfishness. Reprimands that are firm and consistent, but not harsh, will teach your 5-year-old the family stance on generosity. "I don't like it when you keep all the toy soldiers for yourself," you can say. "In our family, we share. Please let your brother have some of them too." Try not to resort to punishment, though. It'll probably make him more defiant, not more generous.
Pile on the praise. Whenever your kindergartner does share, tell him how happy it makes you. "You're so nice to share your Halloween candy with me!" you can say. Or "I'm so proud of you for sharing your special markers with your sister." He'll be happy that he pleased you, and eventually generous behavior will come more naturally to him.
Set some toys aside. It isn't easy to share everything. After all, "You wouldn't necessarily want your neighbor to drive your new car," points out Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and the author of How to Say It to Your Kids. If friends are coming over, your 5-year-old may need to designate some possessions as off-limits for sharing. Explain which toys will be for all the kids to use, and which – like his new microscope – he doesn't have to let his little sister, or even his best friend, play with.
Let your kindergartner learn from his peers. The best way for him to learn to share is for his friends to teach him – and they will! Try not to get involved in every battle over toys; kids eventually learn how to compromise when they realize selfish behavior drives away playmates.
Be a volunteer. To teach your kindergartner generosity on the community level, get involved in a charitable activity, whether it's helping at a soup kitchen or taking holiday cookies to a nursing home. Bring your child along so he can see how real people benefit from your actions. Having witnessed such generosity at work, many 5-year-olds are inspired to volunteer themselves. Encourage your child if he wants to join a fundraising walkathon or take toys to the children's wing of your local hospital, and let him know you're proud of his actions.
Look for the reasons behind his stinginess. If being generous remains a major obstacle for your kindergartner, examine other issues in his life. Has your family just moved? Is his best friend away on a long vacation, or has a favorite pet recently died? Sometimes a 5-year-old will react to tough transitions by clinging more tightly to a beloved possession or selfish behavior. In that case, "He's just holding onto something because he needs an extra security blanket," Coleman explains. Try not to get frustrated. Give him the time and support he needs to work through what's really bothering him, and save the sharing lessons for later.