What to expect at this age
Though it's still not easy for kids this age to share their favorite possessions, 6- to 8-year-olds understand that generosity means more than just sharing toys and treats. Without parental prompting, they can usually empathize with how other people feel, and they can learn that generosity includes helping those in need.
What you can do
Demonstrate generosity. You grade-schooler takes her best cues from you, and when she consistently sees you being generous she'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 exchange one of them for 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 grade-schooler to see a world bigger than herself," says Wayne Dosick, a rabbi and the author of Golden Rules: The Ten Ethical Values Parents Need to Teach Their Children. Begin by teaching her to think about friends and family members. When she says, "I really want pizza for dinner tonight!" you can reply, "I know your friend Sam likes pizza, too. Why don't we invite him to come with us?"
"That way you're not just saying, 'Hey, don't be so 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 youngster the family stance on generosity. "I don't like it when you keep all the Barbie clothes for yourself," you can say. "In our family, we share. Please let your sister play with some of them too." Try not to resort to punishment, which will probably only make her more defiant, not more generous.
Pile on the praise. Whenever your grade-schooler does share, tell her how happy that makes you feel. "I'm so proud of you for sharing your dessert with the new girl at school," you can tell her. "That's a great way to make a new friend." She'll feel good about earning your respect and making someone else happy, and generous behavior will come to her more naturally.
Be a volunteer. To teach your child generosity on the community level, get involved with a charitable activity, whether it's helping at a soup kitchen once a week or taking holiday cookies to a nursing home. Bring your child along so she can see how real people are affected by your actions. Having witnessed such generosity at work, many grade-schoolers are inspired to volunteer themselves. Encourage your child if she wants to join a fundraising walkathon or take toys to the children's wing of your local hospital, and let her know you're proud of her actions.
Look for the reasons behind her stinginess. If being generous remains a major obstacle for your grade-schooler, take a look at other issues in her life. Has your family just moved? Is her best friend away on a long vacation, or has a favorite pet recently died? Sometimes a child will react to tough transitions by clinging more tightly to a beloved possession or selfish behavior. In that case, "She's just holding onto something because she needs an extra security blanket," explains Paul Coleman, a psychologist, family therapist, and the author of How to Say It to Your Kids. So try not to get frustrated – just give her the time and support she needs to work through what's really bothering her, and save the sharing lessons for later.