Toddlers and young children tend to be egocentric, which is normal. Toddlers need help to learn that not everything is “mine”. They may not initially understand the concept that when they trade in something or something is taken away, they can have it back later. It’s not gone forever. It is part of our parenting job to teach our children how to use their words and express themselves. Eventually they will learn to share and develop true friendships.
Toddlers learn to trade and take turns when it is modeled and taught by their parents, their teachers and other children who are successful with this in playgroups. It’s a process that takes time and is not learned over night.
It is important to understand the concept of sharing. Children need to first have the experience of owing something before they can share. Sharing does not mean “always give away your toy because your friend is asking for it”. Sharing means being able to negotiate and understand that “now it is my turn”; later “it’s my friend’s turn”. Sharing also includes understanding the concept of time and taking turns. Your child does not always need to share her toy, if she is not ready. But there will be times when it is expected.
Claiming a toy that a child owns and is holding as “mine” is saying the truth if the toy indeed belongs to him and he is holding it. Parents need to assist in the taking turns process during playdates. You can help your child’s playmate to use his words and say something like “turn please”; or you can say “Liam would like a turn; can you give him one?” If he is not done with the toy, teach him to say “no thank you” or “later” and Liam can be helped to wait until he is ready to trade or take turns. This way children begin to learn to negotiate, use their words, to wait and to delay gratification, all challenges for toddlers.
So, is it ok not to share?
It is important to teach young children how to share. But they don’t have to indiscriminately to do it with everyone who asks all the time. There are some circumstances in which they should be able to say I’m not done, “no thank you”, “not now” or “maybe later”. Children can be taught how to respectfully decline in some situations. But the particulars should be discussed with the child before his playdates or visits to the park, so he can learn in what situations saying no is ok, and in what situations he needs to share and be thinking about his friend.
On playdates at home with friends, parents can have a conversation with their child about sharing before the friend comes over. It can go something like this “ Luke is coming over to play today, he is your good friend, and he will want to play with some of your toys. We want you to have a good time and we want Luke to have a good time too. I know you have some new toys you just received for your birthday. You may not be ready to share your new toys yet, so let’s go into your room and decide which special toys need to be put away for now. The rest of your toys will be for sharing. And I know you and Luke will be able to take turns and both of you will have a good time.” This way the child having the playdate is learning that he has a right to say “no” to sharing his new or special toys. But, he also needs to think about his friend and what he would like share with him. This helps the child have positive experiences on playdates.. This parent-child conversation helps the child to begin to understand his own needs as well as the needs of his friends. It is very helpful when the parent can be present to facilitate playdate so that both children learn from the play date experience.
Sharing is a complex issue and it is situational. There are times when children should be able to claim their own things and be allowed to not share. And there are other times that it is very appropriate and they need to be coached to share in some situations to trade, or take turns with their friends. Lots of patience is needed and a good sense of humor can help too.
Here, in our Preschool Prep Program, children are taught to say “turn please” when they want a turn with a toy, instead of grabbing. The child who has the toy is allowed to say if he is ready to give it up, or if he needs a little more time. Because our focus is on social emotional development and we want the kids to have lots of practice with taking turns, we sometimes use our giant sand timer to help them. Our colorful 1 minute, 2 minute and 5 minute sand timers are useful in helping children to begin to understand the concept of time and how it passes as the colorful sand moves to the bottom of the timer. “Do you need 5 more minutes to play with the truck before you are ready to take turns? OK. Let’s use the timer” The child who is waiting for a turn is helped to find something else to do while he is waiting. When the sand timer tell us its time to trade, the child using the toy usually hands it over willingly to the child who has requested a turn and moves on to play with something else. Children are applauded for their developing ability to wait and take turns with friends. The begin to learn about sharing through this process, but we don’t expect them to master it right away. Lots of practice with gentle support and engagement work best.
Written by: Marilee Hartling & Paula Boscardin