“Mine, mine, MINE, MINE, MIIIIIIINNNNNE!!!!! NOOOOO, MIIIIIINNNNNE!!!!!”
Does this sound familiar to anyone? If so, then you are right where I am in my parenting journey-teaching my young child the concepts of sharing and taking turns.
I have to be honest — it can be very frustrating at times, and it would be a whole lot easier to just throw up my hands and say, “OK, buddy — you can have it,” or “Go ahead, you can take Momma’s turn.” I find it’s helpful to keep my end goal in mind. That is, I am not raising a child; I am raising an adult who can function in the real world. In the real world, we all have to wait for our turn and share with others from time to time; otherwise, we will experience some unpleasant natural social consequences if we cut in line or attempt to keep everything for ourselves!
Here are some simple guidelines to use when teaching this important life lesson.
State your expectation: It’s helpful to talk with your child during a calm time about what you expect from them. You may need to have this conversation multiple times — and you may even feel as though you are a broken record! This is normal. Children learn best with lots of repetition and rehearsal, so you may talk about sharing toys when you are at home, in the car, and right before you get to a play date, for example.
Use simple, clear sentences: Remember to use simple, clear language in a neutral tone. Let your child know what you will do to hold him or her accountable if they don’t comply. For example, you could practice sharing when you are at home, and then give a reminder such as, “Remember, you need to share your crayons with Katie just like we practiced. If you don’t, then you will need to sit on the steps until you are ready to share,” right before starting a play date.
Narrate — and Use positive reinforcement: If it’s a situation where you unexpectedly find yourself needing to wait or share, I find it’s helpful for me to talk with my son about what’s going on, and use positive reinforcement if he is able to be patient. For example, I might say something like: “We need to wait for that lady to pay for her groceries, and then it will be our turn.” It can also be helpful to continue to “coach” your child while you are waiting with phrases such as, “It’s almost our turn” or “I like how you are being so patient.” When he does well with this, I usually say something like, “I like how you were able to wait so quietly — I’m so proud of you, buddy!” with a smile and a high-five. For some kids, it can also be helpful to give something more tangible as a reward, such as a sticker or getting some other small treasure.
It’s OK not to share everything: I recently went to a play date with my son, and he was playing cars with another child. All of a sudden, the other child started becoming very upset because my son was playing with the toy school bus. I was confused by this, until the other mom explained that the school bus was her son’s favorite car, and apologized for not taking it out of the bin before our arrival. From an adult perspective, this may not make a lot of sense — after all, it’s just a simple toy and what’s the difference between a school bus and a dump truck? Think about it this way, though: how would you feel if someone came into your house and helped themselves to your favorite sweater or your grandfather’s watch? Chances are, you would not be so open to sharing those items because they have added emotional value! Part of setting up a child for success is recognizing that there are special items that s/he does not have to share. Before going to play or having someone come over, it can be helpful to take a moment to put a few select things away that your child does not have to share, and to set out what is OK to play with.
Be realistic: Sharing isn’t easy and patience does not come naturally to most people, especially young children accustomed to an instant gratification world. It’s important to keep in mind that you need to “start where your child is, and coach them forward.” If your child is having difficulty taking turns and has a meltdown whenever he has to share his toys, try closely supervised play dates with just one other child at first instead of a whole group. Another idea is to try to set your child up for success as much as possible. This may require some flexibility and creativity on your part, or waiting to do a play date at another time if your child is hungry or tired.
Although this is a difficult phase to get through right now, (and believe me, I know how hard it can be!) I keep trying to move forward as I teach these concepts to my son. Through modeling calm and trying to be consistent as much as possible, I am hopeful that my efforts will pay off with an empathic and patient human being in the future.