And the answer is........ S H A R I N G !
Think about it:
Most of us have experienced a toddler holding out something toward us.
We might have thought, "Oh, how cute. He's giving me his toy!" Then as soon as we reach out to take the offering he snatches it back, his eyebrows go down, and he gives us a dirty look.
It's as if he's saying, "You really didn't think I was offering it to you, did you? Be real! Did you really?"
Or, maybe he's saying...
"When it comes to things that I'm holding out to you:
Look with your eyes, NOT with your hands!"
Sharers vs. Non-Sharers
I've been to numerous daycare centers where adults stand or sit, and do not interact with the children while the children have FREE PLAY TIME. Instead, they visually scan the room, watching the children and only intervene if there is a problem.
One morning I entered a room and greeted a staff member. She returned my greeting and then pointed to the middle of the room, indicating the little boy I was there to see. He was sitting on the floor, which was littered with toys, in the middle of a large group of other two year old children.
It seemed, from what I could tell, that the boy was getting upset because another child was touching the toy he was holding, and trying to take it away from him.
"He doesn't know how to share," the woman said.
I waited to see if she would go over to the children, but she just stood there. She made no effort to go to the boys to try to model or facilitate sharing.
It was at that moment that I realized that some adults must believe that most children are either:
1. Born knowing how to share
2. That children will automatically begin sharing just because you tell them to.
"SHARE!... SHARE!... YOU HAVE TO SHARE!"
But what about those children who simply do not get it; you know, the "non-sharers."
??? - What are we to do with them?
It seems that the consensus is to:
- point at them
- continue to tell them that they MUST share (even though that approach hasn't worked the first 100 times)
- look down upon them as "problematic" children
- resent them, because, after all, they cause so much upset for the other children and that makes our day much more difficult.
That particular day, when this little boy was pointed out to me, I was amazed that no one had ever told the teaching assistant that IT IS HER JOB TO TEACH THAT CHILD TO SHARE, and that (as I, myself, have learned) there is a simple, logical way to do it.
Maybe the head teacher, supervisor or administrator didn't know the way to teach a child sharing.
Maybe you don't either.
So, let's take a look at the basis of the problem and the common-sense, step-by-step solution.
I practiced this learning-how-to-share technique a lot in the 1990s, when I was the head teacher of a special education preschool class filled with developmentally delayed and medically fragile two to five year old children.
If I remember my Psychology 101 and "conditioning" techniques correctly, this technique uses the behavior-changing concepts of shaping and desensitization.
However, I must think in terms of precious human children, not lab rats. This technique is successful only when you are able to increase a child's ability to:
Have FAITH in others
Develop a sense of TRUST.
It's true: Non-Sharers LACK Faith & Trust
Why are FAITH and TRUST so important?
Well, if you've ever lacked either while in an adult relationship (or a parent-child relationship with a teenager), then you know that FAITH and TRUST are cornerstones for a healthy and positive relationship.
Without FAITH and TRUST, that comfortable, cozy feeling in a relationship disappears and it is replaced by anxiety and fear.
Yup...anxiety and fear...you've seen those emotions on children's faces, heard them in their voices and seen behavior that lets you know they are anxious or fearful.
Think about it...it makes sense...that's why children who don't know how to share seem so nervous when others approach them, while they are holding a treasured object or toy.
To prevent someone from taking a favorite stuffed animal, a non-sharer will take it and try to squish it into his armpit, trying, with all his might, to make it unavailable to the other person.
Building Trust (and Faith)
Step 1: BACK & FORTH - sit on the floor with legs in a V and feet touching. Roll a ball or car back and forth. Have an adult sit behind the child to make sure the back and forth goes smoothly.
Step 2: TAKE SHORT TURNS - count aloud as you take a turn with something (mixing instant pudding works well).
Announce: "Mommy's turn!"
Stir and Count Aloud: "1--2--3"
Immediately Announce: "Johnny's turn!"
Slide The Bowl Over To Him
Count Aloud As He Stirs: "1--2--3"
Announce: "Mommy's turn!"
Before Sliding The Bowl Over To You
Immediately Begin Counting: "1--2--3"
Repeat this procedure ad nauseum...until the child is tired of it or bored or says, "no" or "no more" or gets up and walks away.
By doing this activity he has learned that he can trust you to give him another turn again and again...he has faith in you that he will get another turn for as long as he wants one.
The child no longer has to worry (be anxious or fearful). He can relax and be calm.
Step 3: SLOWLY LENGTHEN THE TURNS
Each time you do a Turn-Taking activity count a little higher.
Check that the child does not seem overly anxious or fearful.
Perhaps, the second day, count to 5 for each turn, the next time to 10 and eventually up to 20.
This will reinforce the word TURN, and when the child hears, "Johnny's turn" he will join doing activity. When he hears someone else' turn, he will know that he has to wait (just a short time) in order to get another turn. He will be sharing the spotlight with other children.
Gradually add more children (or adults) to the activity. Now he is waiting 40 seconds or 60 seconds. If he is calm and relaxed while waiting, then he is on his way to sharing.
Changing Sharing From A Negative To A Positive
Step 4: DESTROY THE DOUBLE STANDARD
It occurred to me several years ago that there is a double standard when it comes to sharing.
Adults View of Sharing
When two ADULTS go out to lunch and share a sandwich it is a POSITIVE thing.
- Instead of sharing a sandwich, maybe they will each order different things and share half with the other, in order to get the opportunity to taste two different dishes.
- Maybe they will be able to save money, by dividing a dish in a favorite restaurant, because the portions are huge.
- Or maybe they will feel more successful with their portion-control goals.
- Many times adults LIKE to SHARE a cab, a vacation house, the bill, etc., because it offers each some type of benefit.
Each adult views sharing as GETTING SOMETHING.
Children's View Of Sharing
When children are told (or asked) to share, they lose something. Something is taken from them (sometimes forcefully). They view it as a negative. They feel abused.
How can we get children to perceive sharing as a positive concept?
Place a large plate of your child's favorite food in front of yourself. Take a taste. Say, "Yummy! This is delicious."
Then ask your child (who is sitting there with an empty plate), "Johnny, would you like to share my blueberries? Yes? Okay. Here you go. You can share some of my blueberries. Isn't sharing great? I LOVE sharing with you! It's so nice to sit here and much on blueberries together!"
Now, let the child experience SHARING as GETTING, over and over again.
"Would you like to share my cookies?"
"I'm going to play with these cars. Would you like to share some of my cars?"
"I went to the toy store and bought some new toys. Would you like to share my new toys?"
"I just filled the wading pool with water, so I can go swimming. Would you like to share the pool with me?"
Or, with an older child:
"I'm getting $1.00 for taking out the recycling. Would you like to share the chore with me?
You can take out one bag full and I will take out one bag full. Then we can share the money. We can divide it.
You will get 50 cents and I will get 50 cents! We will both have money to spend later at the store. Isn't that awesome?"
for reading my opinions on teaching young children to share.
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I am Noelle Michaels, and I truly love my job!
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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist