I met an otherwise intelligent lady yesterday, who was worried sick over her 26 month old son's 'selfish' behavior. She told me that her son, Arjun, is not ready to share any of his toys with his friends. She wondered if Arjun would grow up into a selfish, self-centered person. I wondered if this mother really remembers her sons age! 26 months old, that's all. This toddler wasn't even aware of toys 20 months back, wasn't aware of the concept of ownership 10 months back, and today he is expected to share!! How unfair indeed.
Many parents worry about their kids not sharing toys etc. with their friends. How much of this worry is justified, and that too, when? Can we teach our children to become sharing people? How?
It is important to recognize that sharing is not a natural process. Not just kids, but even adults find it difficult to share stuff close to their heart. Sharing is an acquired habit, acquired in order to achieve either parents' approval or playmates company or their toys and so on. In essence, some sort of reward expectation is essentially inherent in sharing. Sharing is very difficult for kids less than 3 years of age, and really should not be expected of them. When they guard their stuff, it's quite natural, and ought to be treated as another developmental milestone.
However, things do get different with older children. They need to be taught the concept of sharing, AND the happiness that it brings. Sometimes it is difficult for children to understand what exactly we mean by sharing. 4 year old Neha might think, 'Will Ratnesh return my truck after playing? Afterall, when I shared a cookie, he ate it, and it's not going to come back!' When we speak of sharing in a playground or school environment, then the meaning changes to 'taking turns' as while the playground swing belongs to no one child, the truck does belong to Neha.
The difficulties associated with sharing are aplenty. A child might not like sharing his own toys with friends , but is okay at taking turns on the slide. Another child may be a bully, not realizing other's ownership and taking toys by force. Another extreme might be a child so afraid by such a bully, that he is not able to resist the bully, but is upset by the loss of his toy. One more typical case is the fight between siblings, which generally start with a newly mobile baby. Luckily, help is at hand for all these cases. Here are some easy, practical suggestions, that would help your child and you cope up with the trouble of sharing for ever :
- Special toys are different.
They have a special place which the prying little sister can't reach, or expected guests can't find. Having faith that his favorite toys are safe will make a child more generous towards the rest of the toys.
- Lay down rules.
Be short and specific. Don't leave room for exceptions as they only confuse the kid. For example, tell your bully boy that he CANNOT take someone else's toy without their permission. Not even when the owner kid is not playing with them. Permission is a must, always.
- No is a no-no.
Do not allow a simple no to a sharing request. If a child asks for a toy, your kid can not simply say no. He doesn't have to say yes either. But any negative response must be explained further. Like, ' I'm playing with blocks right now. I'll give them after 10 mins.' Or 'Let me finish my coloring now. You play with the flute till then.'. In addition to avoiding hurt feelings, you'll also have a good conversationalist in no time.
- If you can, use a timer for taking turns.
A loud one, if possible. You'll make turn taking fun!
- Be his role model.
Share your special pen with him sometimes (and let him know that you are sharing). You can also play 'Sharing games' if your child is extra-stubborn. Just simple give-and-take games to demonstrate that things do return even if someone else takes them for some time.
- Teach your kid negotiation skills.
If she really wants her friend's Barbie, maybe she should offer an attractive substitute. If she hates parting with her viewmaster, maybe offering her binoculars would help, and so on. Negotiation skills might turn out to be her most important lesson in life.
- Listen as long as you can to an angry child.
It will give you valuable insight on how his mind works, and what are the tensions he is carrying within himself. A child, while wailing over a toy, might give you important clues to his personality. For example, he might say, 'Why should Manas take my beyblade? He does not shares his cycle with me ever!!' Isn't that fair? It tells you that your kid is not against sharing, but is against Manas. So the root problem is different, and so must be the treatment.
- Consider play his work.
Respect his play. If you take his toy train to placate his wailing sister, when the station was just about to come, then you are being unfair. Kids get totally engrossed in their play, and it remains a 'play' no more. Such thoughtless interventions can really, and rightly, upset a tender mind.
- Have plenty when you can.
Miniature vehicles, crayons, play-dough, chalks are examples of things you can never have enough of. A few extra bucks spent on them would go a long way to give you some peace from the sharing war!
All these techniques work well. But the most important thing to remember is, do not force sharing. Forcing ruins the concept that sharing can ultimately lead to a joyful relationship with other people. May be she's not in a mood today. Tomorrow is, after all, another day.