Sharing & caring
One of the hardest things to teach small children is to move beyond 'mine'. Olivia Willis offers some helpful tips on getting toddlers to share
Your toddler's playroom is bursting with toys, yet whenever another child visits, your little darling wants whichever neglected toy their new amigo reaches for. A struggle ensues, and soon the fun and laughter are replaced by tears and tantrums.
How many times has a happy kids' play date been interrupted by rows along the lines of "That's mine!", "I want it!", "Give it to me" and "She won't share with me"?
Young children find it difficult to let go of possessions which they think are only theirs; the concept that it will make its way back to them is rather tough for a toddler to believe. Give-and-take is hard for kids this age, who have yet to gain a clear understanding of time or a sophisticated grasp of language. "You can have the doll back in a few minutes" means little to a two-year-old.
They might also find it odd that taking a toy from another child, without asking, is not a very nice thing to do, nor is it going to be greeted with glee from the other boy or girl. Sharing can be tough for us adults - and we know how the concept works; you can imagine how difficult it is for a child who is being introduced to the notion for the first time.
Let's be on the level here: teaching your kids to share is one of the hardest things to educate a young child in, but it is an important life skill. It allows children to interact positively in pre-school, primary school and social occasions.
Sometimes when your child doesn't share, it can feel embarrassing. However, it's something that all parents have dealt with, so as long as you are involved and addressing it, don't worry too much. Show me a parent that hasn't had a red-faced moment trying to teach their little one to share their toys or sweets and I bet you, you can't. Don't let other people faze you because we've all been there.
So how do you introduce sharing? Because it really is a concept that seems like a wicked and horrible practice to a toddler.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate this learning phase:
● Start by modelling sharing at home. Take out some toys and let your child pick what they would like to play with. Then you choose something different to play with. Ask your child if they would like to share the toys and play with you. Show them how you share by giving them a few of your toys. Then ask them to share with you. This is the first step in helping your little one become comfortable giving something to someone else.
● Be sure to say a big thanks to them for sharing, and after a few minutes give their original toys back and let them know that you are done playing with them. Ask them to then give your toys back to you. You may have to try this several times before they become trusting enough of the concept and confident that they will get their toys returned to them, but it does eventually click.
● Talk to them about their feelings. For example, ask your child "Are you afraid you won't get a turn?" or "Are you worried you won't get the train back?" This will help a toddler recognise his or her own feelings; over time this understanding will translate into the ability to recognise and respond to the feelings of others and see that not sharing can make other children sad or upset. It's good to appeal to your child's emotions. You could, for example, pose the question, "How would you feel if someone wasn't willing to share with you?"
● If you have a little visitor coming over, plan activities for two. A bucket of toy cars, a box of bricks or some pots of playdough means there's enough for both players. Or if the two little ones want the same thing, try saying something like "Could Emily play with the doll when you're finished with her?" Or offer a choice: "Would you like to share your blue car or your red car?"
● For the next play date, invite a couple more kids into your home. Talk about the play date well head of time. But be sure to put your child's favourite and special possessions away and leave out the items your child is comfortable sharing. For this 'Yoda' type lesson, you'll need to use the alarm setting on your phone or use a fun egg timer. Sod's Law dictates that when a group of kids are playing together, they all want to play with the same toys. Tell the kids that they will each get a turn but they have to wait for the timer to buzz. Set the timer for X number of minutes and when it buzzes, everyone has to give their toy to someone else to try it out. Not only will the kids find it fun and exciting to wait for the buzz, but they will relish the anticipation of gaining something new and fun to play with next. This will have huge benefit when your toddler begins to play in a playgroup.
● Be a good model for generosity yourself and this will help teach your child to share. Monkey see, monkey do. When someone asks to borrow one of your 'toys', make this a teachable moment: "Mam is sharing her dress with Auntie Deirdre."
● Let your sharing shine. Share something small with your children on a regular basis: "Come sit next to me - I'll make room for you." Or "Want some of my popcorn?" If you have several children, there will be times when this individual attention is hard. Two children can't have one hundred percent of one mam or dad. Do the best you can to divide your time fairly. "Not fair" may be the single most frequently repeated complaint of childhood, but sharing your attention is actually a lesson itself.
● Always celebrate success. When your child has a successful sharing moment, give them a high five. Tell them well done and how proud you are of them. Kids thrive on positive reinforcement. It's especially good to use a descriptive praise. Instead of vague phrases like "You're such a good boy," try to say something like "Did you see the smile on Jack's face when you gave him the ball? He really liked that." It draws your child's attention to concrete details of what they did. Their ability to share grows as kids have good experiences of it.
Of course, there will still be some bumps along the road. I remember my son told another kid in playschool last year, "This is playschool and we share everything, so give it to me now."
Olivia Willis is the co-founder of www.familyfriendlyhq.ie, an Irish family lifestyle website with information for parents, things to do, daily articles, reviews, competitions and expert family advice.