As parents, we want our children to be generous, kind, and cooperative with others. We may think we can help them learn these skills by requiring them to share with others. However, many educators now believe forcing children to share does not actually teach the intended lessons.
So let’s start by thinking about the social skills we want our children to learn and how we can help strengthen those skills in everyday situations.
- Problem-solving: Many times, when children argue over an object, the child who cries the loudest or complains the most ends up getting what they want. It is natural to want the crying to stop or to give in because we don’t know what else to do. However, this teaches the child that they will get what they want by complaining or crying louder. Children can learn valuable skills when adults do not automatically jump in to solve every problem for them. When two children argue over a toy, they can often work it out themselves if given the time and opportunity. If you see that they can’t, instead of giving them a solution, ask questions like:
- I see you both want the doll. What do you think would be fair? Should we set a timer and you can take turns playing with it for a few minutes? Or shall we find another doll and you can play with both dolls together?
- You both want the last cookie, but there is only one. What can we do that would be fair to everyone?
- Assertiveness: By giving your child the opportunity to say no to someone who wants something of theirs, you are teaching them to be assertive. Your child isn’t being impolite when they tell another child, “No.” You can help by modeling the words to say:
- I’m still playing with it.
- You can have it when I’m done.
- It’s my turn now, then it can be your turn.
- Patience: By modeling patience, we show our children that we don’t always get what we want when we want it. Like assertiveness, this is a valuable life lesson for children. You can help by giving words to your child’s feelings. Remember to point out when they act in a positive way, as well!
- I see that you are mad/sad because your brother has the toy right now.
- I know it is frustrating to wait, but Sophia isn’t done playing.
- I see that you want the toy Liam is playing with. I like how you asked him for it, and are now waiting your turn.
Don’t forget to make sure your child follows through with turn-taking. When she is finished using the toy, encourage her to give it to the child whose turn is next. Both children will generally feel better, more competent, and confident when the decisions made are their own.
Ultimately, we want our children to share because they want to be cooperative and kind to their friends and siblings, not because they feel obligated. Child-directed sharing can empower your child to develop those skills that are necessary for a happy and healthy life.