What is sharing?
Sharing is to give something you have, or part of, to another with the intention of a positive outcome for both individuals involved.
We ask children all the time to “share” their things with others and the response from them is often less than pleasant. Eye rolling, tantrums, questioning, reluctancy. If this response is occurring when the request to share is given - we should look at why.
Janet talks about feeling empathy and as I described sharing involves a positive outcome for both individuals. Empathy (or the deep understanding and feeling for another person’s emotions) is a challenging skill for children to master. It isn’t until closer to 5 years of age and over do children really understand the concept of empathy!
While some children can and do develop empathy earlier, it can be harder for some. So, while asking a child to share their things with another may seem “easy and polite” to us as adults, it is a very different story to our children.
So why do children not share instinctively?
Have you ever noticed that when you ask children to share their things with another, all of a sudden neither of the children really want the toy anymore? Or they play with the toy for but a few brief moments before running off to something else?
The reasoning behind this is that when children squabble over objects (especially when there are perfectly good toys they can use around them), what they are really doing is interacting and learning socially from the other child. Young children are learning the idea that the world doesn’t actually revolve around them, and as they are learning this new concept they experiment socially with others to test reactions, play skills and friendships. One of the ways they experiment with this new concept is by taking toys from others.
When babies are first born they are egocentric. This is an evolutionary and physiological developmental stage that allows the baby to ensure it’s own survival by focusing on its own needs until they are able to communicate them better to those around them. This is why when a toddler wants a toy they think they have every right to it… because in their mind it’s already theirs! So asking a child to share can be very confusing as they think the toy is theirs, they were having fun with it, so why should I give it to another person?
So what can we do?
Sharing will happen as the child develops the ability to see the perspective of others and has a want/drive for social interaction that involves turn taking and back and forth communication.
So, while we are waiting for children to develop these skills there are few things we can do to help them and encourage their learning:
- Acknowledge that our child may not want to share in that moment and we need to be okay with that. Forcing our children to share can often rob our children of very important social learning experiences as they work these things out in their own interactions with others.
- “Sportscast” what is happening if we need to intervene. Rather than dictate what the children should be doing we should try and talk to the children about what is happening and help them to work out a positive solution. E.g. “wow Liam you really want that toy but that other child has it already. You can ask them if they would like to share it? Oh, can you see how they shook their head and said no, then we need to wait and we can have a turn of that toy later. [Liam gets upset] I know you really wanted a turn of that toy right now but we need to wait. Come and have a cuddle with me and we will find something else to do while we wait.”
- Role model generosity – together with empathy and sharing is generosity. So if our children see us being generous to others, sharing our things and being kind and respectful to others choices than they will be able to model these behaviour after us.
- Most importantly, we need to trust our children. We need to trust that they will develop the capacity to share and demonstrate empathy in their own time as they learn and experience their world first hand.
None of us feel comfortable when our child takes something from another, holds on to toys that others wants to use, or seem upset because another child will not share with him. Our first instinct is to step in and make it better, however our intervention may not be the best idea for our child’s learning.
Ultimately, these no-sharing situations probably look far worse from our perspective than they do from our child’s. So, the key for us as parents is to try and remember that our children are learning these new skills, they need us to help them learn them, provide opportunities to practice them and experiment with their world.