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Encouraging Cooperative Behavior

Dear Debi,
My daughter is three years old and has a difficult time sharing toys with other children. How can I encourage her to be more cooperative?
Brenda Carrillo
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Play games to encourage taking turns
  • Encourage your child to help with simple chores
  • Give children choices
  • Be playful when children are uncooperative
  • Praise their cooperative behavior
Expert Advice
Walter Gilliam, Ph.D.
Walter Gilliam, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor of Child Psychiatry & Psychology
Sharing is not natural for children. Sharing is not natural for any of us. It's something that we learn. Basically we learn it because we either learn that when we share and follow the social rules, we get what we want easier and better, or we learn on the other hand that we get what we want quicker and easier if we just take it and fend for ourselves. You should set up an environment for children where they learn that they are going to get what they want easier and better by sharing, not by just taking something.

One of the most common mistakes parents make when it comes to the subject of cooperation is expecting a little bit too much too early. It's very normal for children when they're 2 years of age or younger, to mostly want to play alone by themselves. By the time you see children entering about 2 to 3 or 4 years old, most of the play is parallel play. Most of their play is not really, truly cooperative play. They're not really working on something together with a peer. They're just working next to the peer, which is parallel play. Parents often expect too much cooperation or a very sophisticated level of cooperation when children might not yet be there.

Another mistake is that we don't praise the child's good behavior at least 10 times as many times as we call out the bad behavior. Remember to find opportunities throughout your day to praise your child. You can make a game out of it. Put 10 pennies in one pocket at the beginning of the day. Every time you say something negative, move the penny over to your other pocket. Every time you say something positive to your child, put the penny from that pocket back in the first one. See if you can end up at the end of the day with all your pennies back in the pocket that you started with.
Child Care Provider Comments
Rob Morhaim
Rob Morhaim
Father of two
When we have the two kids together, they both want to do everything together or first. We work on turn taking with puzzles, like "You put a piece in and now I put a piece in."
Aleda Johnson
Aleda Johnson
Grandmother of four
My grandchildren have a lot of educational toys that encourage them to cooperate with one another. For instance, rolling a ball back and forth between children helps them learn to play together.
Diane Ferguson
Diane Ferguson
Child care provider for 3 years
We have "Share Day." That is when the kids bring something from home. This month, we are working with animals. The kids will bring a stuffed animal from home. During circle time you talk about the toy. Then you pass it around until it goes all the way around the room. They all get to experience the toy.

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Encouraging Cooperative Behavior Featured Video:
Encouraging Cooperative Behavior
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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