Has anyone ever made it through toddlerhood and not had to think and talk about sharing?
Before about 20 months, my daughter was a dreamy playmate. Caring, thoughtful, concerned, open and giving — she seemed more interested in the people themselves and their feelings than in taking or keeping a particular plaything. I watched friends and strangers going through their own (non)sharing experiences and searching for ways to deal with the issue. I felt gratitude that more children were taking from my child than she was taking from others. A thought flashed in my mind that maybe I’d been blessed with a child so skilled socially that I would have to do little agonizing over sharing.
Then came the reality of child development. My daughter began to explore ownership (mine!) and more complex relationships (other people have needs and wants). She started out fairly easy to redirect. Recently, though, as her verbal skills explode, she seems to be having a harder time with sharing. I have been thinking about and researching ways to help her develop an internal motivation to share (versus an external demand/expectation). [Resources below.]
Here’s what I’m currently striving for as we work together on sharing:
1. I use consistent language, including empathy in the conversation.
I say the same thing at home, before we get to some place where she will have an opportunity to share, when something is happening, and after the opportunities have been experienced. I usually say something like the following:
“You want to play with that toy, huh? Looks like ____ isn’t finished playing with it yet. Maybe when they are finished they will give you a turn.”
I say this knowing that the other child may never “finish” playing with the toy. I also encourage her to ask for a turn using this same language. When we play together I try to use this language often myself so that she can feel the difference between me taking something and me asking for a turn (“When you’re done, can I have a turn?”)
2. I give space for me to observe and my daughter to practice the art of sharing.
This is not easy for me at all. I do want to jump in to “solve” and “direct.” I try to keep my mouth shut until I have observed. I am looking to see what my daughter and the other child are doing and feeling, and I try to give my daughter ample opportunity to observe the other child’s behavior and try out her skills. I also talk to her about waiting and being patient. If she does actually want that thing and is having a hard time we talk about waiting.
3. I use ASL signs: turn, finished, wait, patient, frustrated.
I have a post planned for a while from now on signing, but I definitely find that my daughter responds more quickly and positively when I sign than if I just use my words. When she sees me sign “turn” I see her face register the symbol, and she almost always uses the language from #1. Of course, patience is hard for all of us, so we also talk about being frustrated with waiting. Our strategy is to breathe. Usually by the end of all that, even though it’s quick, she is ready to move on or give her friend some space.