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How communication and language skills support children to learn about giving and sharing

I remember talking to a group of children in Year 1 about sharing and, while some of them talked about the positive aspects of sharing, one child described it as ‘never getting what you want’. I thought this was an interesting insight and a useful starting point for looking at how sharing relates to speech, language and communication skills.

Sharing is described as 'giving a portion of (something) to another or others: ration out; give out; distribute; dispense; hand out; dish out; deal out; dole out; parcel out; measure out; carve up; divvy up; use, occupy, or enjoy (something) jointly with another or others'.

These can be complex concepts to grasp for young children and children with speech, language and communication needs (they can also be hard at times for adults!). Sharing involves negotiation, compromise and, sometimes, disappointment. Negotiation relies on having good language and social skills, while compromise and disappointment involve emotional regulation.

What are the skills that enable children to share?

  • Having an awareness of what other people want and be able to understand that others might want something as much as they do
  • Being able to take turns
  • Negotiating turn taking, which requires good language skills. For example try saying ‘if you have it first for a few goes and then I can have it for a few goes’ when you can say a few people’s names and name some objects.
  • Understanding of the language of sharing. Children understand and say ‘mine’ first (at around 2 years old. Only once children understand and use the concepts of ‘mine’ and ‘yours' can this support their ability to share). Find out more about the stages children go through when learning to communicate.
  • Having an awareness of time - children are still developing this.
  • Playing cooperative, social games. Children may also be at a stage of social play where they are playing alongside each other. Sharing is easier once children play together co-operatively.

These all make sharing a complex skill, dependent on speech, language and communication.

How can we support children?

  • Explaining what sharing is and how we do it.  
  • Modelling sharing and showing so children can see it in action
  • Talking about feelings - how it feels to give something, to receive something and also not to get what you want.
  • Helping children to take turns and making this visible
  • Using timers so children know they have something for a certain length of time.
  • Ensuring that everyone gets a go so that sharing doesn’t just mean never getting what you want. This involves recognising what children want and that their desires are important.
  • Making sure that everyone has something else to do while waiting for a turn. There is nothing more heart breaking than watching someone waltz off with your object of desire and you having to watch them until it’s your turn. If children are involved in something else this can distract them (even if it’s momentary); they may need some support from us to do this.

For children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) sharing can be challenging as they may not have the language skills to let you and other children know what they want and how to negotiate. This can lead to moments where they just take something (this is the quickest and most sure fire way of getting what you want). Children can also struggle to know how and when to take turns, which can mean that we need to watch closely to interpret what they want and support them in situations where we're asking them to share.

Reflecting on practice

  • How do you talk about sharing with children and other adults?
  • Are there opportunities for modelling giving and sharing both with adults and children? If this is something you genuinely want this is even more realistic as it becomes more of a challenge!
  • Do you have enough everyday resources for children to enjoy so that they aren’t always having to share?
  • How do you support children to develop co-operative and social games?
  • How do you support children to develop turn taking skills, which are vital life skills and the foundation stone for conversations as children get older?
  • How do you support children with SLCN if they find sharing challenging?

In the spirit of giving and sharing we would love it if you shared some tips for supporting children to learn about sharing via our Twitter or Facebook pages. Now our turn – if you would like more ideas you can download our factsheets or talk to us in person.


About the author:

Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents.  Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant. 

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