Hands up who has hollered, "Will you just (insert chosen expletive here) share?!”, taken a toy from one child to give to another, or been a referee in an altercation over the last bit of unmixed play dough? I know I have on more than one occasion!
We ask our little ones to share their toys and possessions ALL the time because if they aren’t sharing, it means you are a terrible parent whose child is going to grow up to be an unkind tyrant. I can promise you, neither of these are true!
Sharing is rather a difficult concept for your child to grasp, because as adults we will very rarely model it for them, and children learn by copying us. That’s right, folks; we grown-ups don’t share very often!
Let me explain a little more: you don’t go into your friend’s house and start rifling and playing with their stuff. I would be pretty miffed even if a close girlfriend started to use my make-up without asking!
My colleagues don’t just come over to my desk and take my stapler that I am using, or start tapping away on my computer. I can’t even write here what I would say to them if they did this!
We don’t expect others to hand us over something just because we have spied it and want it for ourselves. If someone has something, we don’t expect to go over to them and have a go without asking first. I think I am speaking for the majority here when I say this: we respect other people’s possessions and ask before we take something that belongs to another.
In order for your little one to grasp taking turns, they need to see it modelled for them again and again, and again. So saying the word 'share; repeatedly actually has very little meaning for them and is pretty futile (trust me, I tried this for years). This doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t be supporting our little ones to be kind and caring - quite the opposite! I think we should be throwing kindness around like confetti, but I do think we need to have clearer rules about taking turns.
Where there are children, there is always going to be conflict over toys - it’s all part of the playground of life, sadly; but here are my top tips for when you find yourself in the middle of a toy tussle:
Hold back on the share support
Often, we will involve ourselves in a child’s conflict too soon just to keep the play peace and show others that our children can share! Conflict with others is all part of everyday life, and even a very little one can resolve conflict if we give them the practice. If we go in and referee too soon, it stops them practicing this share skill, and 9 out of 10 times, they will come to a gentle resolution themselves. Also, if it is siblings that are arguing over a toy, if we go in to sort it out they often can turn it right back on us and be best of friends in five minutes, leaving us looking like the bad guy (again, been here more than a few times).
Give them control by commentating: if they are struggling to resolve the conflict themselves, then we may have to gently step in to support them. If you commentate what is actually happening, it gives them the control and the chance to reach a peaceful resolution. Sometimes just saying: “I see you both want the same toy there; it’s frustrating when you both want the same thing isn’t it. How are you going to solve this?”
It can be enough for them to stop, think, and reach a peaceful compromise together - even young children can be surprisingly good at this when given the opportunity!
Toy tussle and turn
If you have given them the chance to work it out themselves, clearly explain to them that if they can’t reach a compromise they need will to take turns. You may be thinking, 'Why not just take the toy away?'. Taking the toy away in the long-term means taking away a learning opportunity to take turns. I would always suggest giving them the chance to take turns; but if the conflict continues, I would take away the source of conflict.
This can help when you find yourself caught in child conflict: “OK, guys; if you can’t reach a compromise, then we are going to have to take turns. If we keep arguing over it, then I will have no choice but to take away (insert golden prize here) away.” State clearly what is going to happen: “Elsa is going to play with it first for five minutes, and then when the time is up, Anna it is going to be your turn. When the time is up, Anna will ask nicely for the toy; and Elsa, you will allow her to have her turn."
If they continue to fight or argue, for everyone’s sanity I would suggest putting away the item.
The share snatch
It’s very common for a little one to spy something they fancy and just go for it! This doesn’t mean that they are a bully or aggressive, or that you are a bad parent for not teaching them better manners - it's all perfectly normal! It is also common that we will encourage the child with the toy to give it up to the other child, who wants it in the name of sharing.
Now, this really is a double-edged share sword, because we can’t always have what we want immediately, but it is also kind to take turns.To support them both:
Say to the toy taker: “I see you really want to play with that, but Anna is playing with that right now. We need to wait our turn. It’s hard to wait, but taking turns is the kind thing to do”
If they already have the toy, say: “It’s not nice when we are playing with something and it’s taken away by someone else, is it? Let’s give it back and find you something to play with. As soon as Anna has finished, you can have a turn.”
Say to the one with the toy: “Elsa really wanted that toy, but it’s not nice to just take something without asking. We will give her a turn soon.”
Depending on their age/reluctance to take turns, you may need to be a bit of turn-taking as above.
Show them that you have respect for theirs and other people’s possessions by asking for a turn and saying 'please' and 'thank you'. This surprisingly simple tactic can really help your little one grasp taking turns - it all starts with us!
When they do reach a resolution by themselves, tell them how well they managed to resolve a conflict.
Some things are too special to share
A special comforter, a brand new scooter, or their favourite car may just be too special to them to share, and this is OK; it doesn’t make them selfish or mean! If someone has expressed an interest in having a turn, and they have asked nicely but the answer is still no, I would respect your child’s wishes because we can’t have everything we want.