Parents are all too familiar with the fight-over-a-toy scene and most face it rather helplessly as it is happening right in front of them: Here we go again… parents roll their eyes while their hearts sink:
Who’s is it anyway…?
Before I delve into undoing that stubborn knot, I'd like to familiarize you with an old fable about the scorpion and the turtle.
It goes like this:
– "Would you help me cross the river?" The scorpion asks the turtle.
– "Hop on!" Says the turtle, "but you have to promise not to sting me?"
– "I promise." The scorpion declares.
He then hops on. The turtle swims across the river. Just as they get to the other bank the scorpion stings the turtle.
– "Why did you do that?" Asks the turtle painfully right before he takes his last breath and sinks under the water.
– "It's in my nature..." The scorpion answers.
The metaphor in this little story reflects how impossible it is to go against one's nature, and it is twice as hard for children to go against their most innate abilities. The fact that most parents see how hard it is for their, and others' children to share is because it does go against their nature; simple as that! The struggle that most parents feel over trying to "make" their children share and how much they explain why sharing is important, nice, and polite reflects the difficult task.
– Does that mean our children can't share and we simply give up?
– Does it mean we don't try harder, drill them more, punish harsher?
Well, not necessarily.
In parenting, much like in other life's challenging goals, our objective is not to pound our head against a brick wall, but to rather find an opening. Still, we want our children to be caring-sharing people. We want them to be generous. So if asking them to share is like pounding our heads against a brick wall, is there another way to reach the same goal - which is: children that can share.
The answer is YES! Our children can learn to share in a positive manner that agrees with their nature:
We call it: Taking Turns
Different from sharing, which goes against children's basic nature (remember: children are self centered and that's not a bad thing), taking turn is a skill that can be taught. Children love to master skills, as we all know that their basic nature is to absorb and learn.
Most schools teach the task of taking turns. You can practice it at home. This skill is easily learned by children as young as 2.
Follow these guidelines - they work for siblings as well as playmates, ages can vary:
When the fight begins over any object (a toy, a swing at the park, a place at the table - all are applicable) jump right in and declare: "I see you're fighting over… let me help you." At this point the kids may be whining, pulling each other's arm or hair, or screaming. Let them know you are there to help and to solve their problem. You want to take over and be in charge, and mostly, you want to eliminate their anxiety by offering immediate support to BOTH battling sides.
Next, you want to look at a watch and announce excitedly: "We're going to take turns!"
Taking turns is done in the following manner:
Depends on the children's age, you chose an appropriate time limit that suites their age. Start with two minuets and gradually increase the time limit for older children.
Pick the child that will get the first turn. You want to try and be fair as well as rely on recognizing the different energy for each child. If you know one child is more likely to have a hard time waiting, allow them the first turn. (Remember: children's personalities vary from one another and you want to try and work with who they are.)
Once you chose the time limit - let's say two minutes - and you've picked the child to have the first turn, explain the children in simple words how the plan is going to work: "Mary will get a turn on the swing for TWO MINUTES (you want to emphasize on the time limit), and I will look at my watch… and when TWO MINUTES are up, it will be John's turn!" Make sure you repeat the plan to the point that the children understand and feel confident in you.
Although young children can't tell time and don't understand time concepts, they do grasp the concept of limit setting and boundaries, and feel calmed when there is a plan.
Once the first child is taking his or her turn, be sure to make constant announcements to reassure the waiting child: "Remember Mary, in t-w-o minutes it will be John's turn." Then: "It's almost John's TURN! Only ONE more minute, Mary…!" and so on.
Be consistent! Allow each child a turn. "Look!" You might announce cheerfully, "it's your turn now, wow!"
The magical thing about this method is that in no time you will experience how the children master this skill and literally capture its essence to a point that they can follow the same guidelines on their own. Soon enough, the children themselves "time" each other and become very proud of the new skill they have mastered. The key in this practice is allowing everyone to "win", and winning is a powerful feeling children want to repeat and keep.