My child will be three this summer and will begin attending a preschool at our church in September. But I am concerned–and embarrassed–about his behavior when he’s with other kids. He throws a fit when anyone tries to use the toys he’s playing with, holding the toys close to his chest and shouting, “Mine, mine, mine.” Am I making a mistake by sending him to preschool? Or can I do something to change his behavior?


No doubt the preschool teachers at your church have seen plenty of three-year-olds who have trouble sharing. As babies, we all are totally self-centered, focused only on our own immediate needs and feelings. With maturation and experience, we learn to take another person’s feelings into account and, gradually, learn basic social skills like sharing and taking turns. At age three most children are too immature for sharing to come easily, but a high-quality preschool is a great place to help the process along. With careful adult guidance, children get lots of practice sharing toys, snacks, and the teachers’ attention.

So I wouldn’t worry about your son’s behavior. Nonetheless, there are things you can do with him at home that will help him get ready for the bigger social world of preschool.

First, teach him the concept of sharing. For example, at snack time say, “Let’s share this cookie. Here’s a piece for you, and here’s a piece for me.” Or when you’re doing a puzzle, say, “Here, you take a turn and put this piece in and then I’ll put that one in. We’re sharing.”

Model sharing in your own behavior with others. At home, look for opportunities to share things with your spouse or another family member. Or, when you and a friend are together, make it a point to share, describing it as you do so. Young children are great observers and imitators, often learning more from what we do than what we say.

Recognize and praise your son whenever you see him sharing. (Catch him being good.) Simply say, “I like the way you’re sharing your toys with Susie.” Most young children are eager to receive positive attention from the adults they love, so a little praise can go a long way.

Depending on how long he’s with your family, as he matures it might help to encourage him to imagine how another person is feeling. For example, when you see your son refuse to share his toys with another child, ask him, “How do you think Jason feels when you won’t let him play with that?” or “How do you feel when someone won’t share with you? Well, Jason feels the same way.” Perspective-taking is an important ingredient in healthy, caring relationships with others, and your son will soon be ready to begin developing this valuable skill. I’m sure that, working together, you and his preschool teachers will help your son move through this normal 3-year-old selfishness to become a thoughtful, cooperative member of society.

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