Sharing. As parents it is one of those crucial social skills we feel like we must instill in our children at an early age. Learning the value of sharing makes the world a wonderful and peaceful place to live in. Watching your child master and employ this skill as they happily set about their day is both heart warming and gratifying. It’ll make you feel like super mom, that is for sure!
The journey toward mastering the act of sharing is a bit tricky. Let’s be honest – how many of us have forced our children to share? We’re at the playground, the other kid wants the shovel your kid has, the other parent is sitting right there and you’re feeling the pressure! So it happens, you start persuading your kid to give up the precious shovel and then the screaming ensues… You leave with mixed emotions. Flip flopping between feeling confident that you are teaching your child to share and it’s a trait they have to learn and feeling unsettled that you took something away from your child that she was playing nicely with and not knowing if that was fair of you to push her to give it up?
The latter always weighs more on me. Sharing is indeed something children should learn but is forcing children to share, especially young toddlers really the best way to instill a deep-rooted motivation to do so?
Sharing is actually quite a complicated concept to a child. It involves wanting something and postponing the desire for it just because someone else wants it. This act involves being empathetic which children under the age of about six struggle with. Around 2 1/2, the age when children begin to play with each other rather than alongside each other, you will expect to see some motivation to share.
As adults, we know that some things are for sharing and some things are not. We get to decide when we would like to share and when not. Toys are precious belongings to children. They hold a value that parents simply don’t understand. Children deserve to have a choice, too.
For example, I would never expect my son to share his coveted blanket or special toy that helps calm his mind. That is special to him and he deserves to make the choice to keep it close. I certainly would never lend out a sentimental possession to someone who remarked on its beauty. As parents, sometimes we forget that children hold strong attachments to items we would otherwise overlook as meaningless toys.
Perhaps we don’t give our kids enough credit. We think that sharing is a skill that we must teach much like zipping a jacket or putting on shoes. We forget that sharing is developmental and happens when they are ready, not us. They don’t need us to pressure them into sharing, they simply need us to show them how through example.
Encourage Sharing Through Example & Guidance:
- Create an environment that encourages your child to want to share. Children who have been on the receiving end of generosity follow that model. Take every opportunity to share with your children — be it your glass of water, your book or a bite of your dinner.
- On the flip side, if it is something special to you explain that, “Mommy’s ring is very special. I would like to keep it close. Would you like to wear this necklace instead?” Now they can see that it is ok to make the choice not to share but should be encouraged to find a solution. In this case, offering the necklace in place of the ring.
- “Share Mommy or Daddy.” If you have 2 or more kids, place each child on your lap. This teaches the children to share their special person. Vocalize what you’re doing — “Connor and Penelope are sharing Mommy!”
- Make it a game. Children learn the best through play. Give your child a few toys, flowers, rocks or anything they may be currently interested in and ask her to share them with everyone in the room. “You can share one with your brother, one with sister, one with Mommy…” Your objective is to convey the message that sharing is a normal way of life and it can make everyone feel good.
- Encourage taking turns and trading. Help teach your child how to communicate her needs to her friends. “When Max is finished batting, it will be your turn to bat and Matt can pitch.”
- If a toy dispute begins, try not to interfere immediately. Sometimes it is best to give children the time and space to work it out among themselves. Be aware and monitor the dynamic. If all is going in the right direction, stay a bystander. If the situation is worsening, intervene with guidance.
- Connect actions with feelings. “Look how happy Kate is that your shared your train with her! That made her feel so good.” This encourages empathy and the desire to initiate sharing on their own.
- Protect special toys. Before friends come over, toddlers should have an opportunity to put away their most coveted toys. Just like the sentimental possession I mentioned above, there are certain items children deserve the right to claim only for themselves. Let your child take action in deciding what she may not feel comfortable sharing and tuck it away until after the play date has ended. This will also show them that you respect their choices and encourage the freedom to make their own decisions.
The road to sharing is a bumpy one. Some days will have you feeling like Supermom and some days you’ll just want to crawl under the covers and hope that the other parents understand and will still want to play another day. Every parent has those days and every parent gets through it. In the end, you will find that you’ve provided your child with the room to naturally grow into an empathetic, compassionate child and you are indeed a SUPERMOM!