The difficulties of sharing,
and how books can help
If you’ve had kids, you’ve heard it before. “No, that’s mine!” You look across the room and watch the argument unfold as one toddler desperately tries to recover what was believed to be his or her rightful property. Panic, anger, and frustration combine in an overwhelming flood of emotions. The beleaguered child may cry, scream, stomp about, or resort to more forceful means of reappropriation. You wonder to yourself, “Who is this kid, and what has he done with my son? I know I didn’t teach him that!”
Fear not! The emotions and behaviors your child displays are very normal to development. According to educators at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development (“You & Your Child: Sharing,” n.d.), it’s usually time to start teaching your child about sharing around the age of two. In their handout, they have some really good suggestions, such as ways to teach and demonstrate the concept of sharing, creating opportunities for your child to practice sharing, and providing reinforcement or punishment in connection with a desired or undesired behavior.
Where do books come in?
Children’s books can be an effective tool to help your child work through the difficult emotions that arise when first learning how to share. This type of therapy falls under the broader discipline known as bibliotherapy. The American Library Association (2017) defines bibliotherapy as follows: “The use of selected reading materials as therapeutic adjuvants in medicine and psychiatry; also guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading.” What this means for us as parents is that we can help our children grow and develop by selecting quality books to help deal with the issue of sharing in a thoughtful and creative manner. Young children love having books read to them, so what better way to engage them and discuss the topic in a positive way than with a book?
Suggestions for using books to talk to your child about sharing
Bibliotherapy begins with researching the topic (Google is your best friend), making book selections, and setting aside time to read and discuss the material with your child. Dr. Thomas McIntyre (2014), a professor at Hunter College of CUNY, says that this act of analysis and discussion can help the child “unblock emotions and relieve emotional pressures.” (citation) If your child is old enough, it can help to plan a creative activity to stimulate thought about the topic. This could be through drawing, writing, blogging, vlogging, acting out situations, or singing songs. Find something appropriate to your child’s age level that would keep him or her engaged.
The counselors at TreeHouse Counseling (2015) offer the following additional tips, with an emphasis on using bibliotherapy with older children:
- Even older kids can use a good picture book. They are quick to read, provide interesting illustration, and an older kid can see details that a younger child does not discern. Don’t rule out the picture book.
- If your child doesn’t like to read, consider the graphic novel. Graphic novels require a child to take in so much detail from the pictures, make inferences, and use deductive reasoning. There are many well written graphic novels to use as bibliotherapy.
- Consider reading chapter books with your teens. Discussion promotes comprehension, identification, and generalization.
- You can ask a librarian or a counselor for a relevant title when challenged with a particular topic.
Recommended Book Selections
The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister (1992)
This book is about a beautiful fish with colorful, shiny scales who finds himself an outcast because of the way he treats the other fish, refusing to play or share with them. After seeking advice from a wise, old octopus, he learns the value of inclusion and friendship as he shares his scales with the other fish. The book features dazzling foil material for the scales, which gives it instant child appeal.
A wonderful reading of the book with animation and music can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9mryuEKkKc
The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share, by Mark Reiss & David Catrow (2008)
“Edward was a frightful boy…” the book begins. And he is! He won’t share anything with his sister, until he finally comes to the realization that he hasn’t been very nice. With a change of heart, “The day turned out fine.” The illustrations are detailed caricatures that exaggerate the unsavory qualities of Edward’s behavior.
Should I Share My Ice Cream?, by Mo Willems (2011)
This is one of the many books in the popular Elephant & Piggie series. In this story, Elephant has a comical internal struggle as he decides whether or not he should share his ice cream cone with his friend Piggie. By the time he decides he will share, the ice cream is all melted. However, Piggie comes to cheer him up by sharing her ice cream. The comic elements in the book make it a fun one for both child and parent.
The Mine-O-Saur, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen & David Clark (2007)
The dinosaurs in school and on the playground grow annoyed with the “Mine-O-saur” classmate who is always taking everything and claiming, “MINE! MINE! MINE!” When everyone loses interest in him, he finally begins to share and return the things he had taken. Eventually the classmates accept him back into the group. The illustrations are colorful and humorous, and the lines have a musical lilt and pattern that will keep children engaged.
It’s Mine!, by Leo Lionni (1996)
Three frogs constantly bicker and quarrel about everything, constantly saying, “It’s mine!” When they face a frightening storm together, they make a new friend and learn the value of sharing.
How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?, by Jane Yolen & Mark Teague (2006)
The “How Do Dinosaurs…” series is a popular choice among children and adults, and this entry covers the topic of sharing. In similar fashion as other books in the series, the first half shows all the bad behaviors on display by the dinosaurs, and the latter half shows how they should behave instead. The irascible and yet charming personalities of the dinosaurs really come to life in the hilarious illustrations that feature massive dinosaurs in an otherwise ordinary childhood world.
This is Our House, by Michael Rosen (1996)
The main character in the story doesn’t want to share his “house” (a cardboard box) with any of the other kids on the playground, saying such things as, “it’s not for girls,” or “it’s not for people with glasses.” He changes his mind at the end when he is excluded from the fun because he has red hair, upon which he sees that the house belongs not to him but to everyone. In addition to talking about sharing, the book offers the opportunity to talk to your kids about discrimination.
- American Library Association | Bibliotherapy
- 6 Best Websites for Bibliotherapy Resources
- Bibliotherapy Goldmine: Books on a Variety of Topics
- Picture Books that Teach Young Kids About Sharing
- Pinterest “Books About Sharing”
- 12 Children’s Picture Books About Sharing
- Bibliotherapy Education Project
American Library Association. (2017). Bibliotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/tools/atoz/bibliotherapy
Bardhan-Quallen, S. & Clark, D. (2007). The Mine-O-Saur. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile.
Lionni, L. (1996). It's mine! New York, NY: Dragonfly Books.
McIntyre, T. (2014). Bibliotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.behavioradvisor.com/Biblio.html
Pfister, M. (1992). The rainbow fish. New York, NY: NorthSouth Books.
TreeHouse Counseling. (2015, April 29). Bibliotherapy: A safe place to feel. Retrieved from http://www.treehousecounseling.com/bibliotherapy/
University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. (n.d.). You & your child: Sharing. http://www.ocd.pitt.edu/Files/PDF/Parenting/Sharing.pdf
Reiss, M. & Catrow, D. (2008). The boy who wouldn't share. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Rosen, M. & Graham, B. (1996). This is our house. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Willems, M. (2011). Should I share my ice cream? New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion.
Yolen, J. & Teague, M. (2006). How do dinosaurs play with their friends? New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.