If you get a group of preschoolers together, you know that they will fight to the death over the most insignificant of things.
“I NEED that block!”
“I had that spoon first!”
“But I wanted that old, crumpled piece of trash!”
“He isn’t sharing with me!”
This last one I just heard at the playground yesterday. A boy was baffled when my son refused to give up the bulldozer he was playing with. He looked up and spotted me hovering nearby (I am never far), and whined that my son wasn’t sharing with him.
The bulldozer in question.
Sharing is a hot topic in early childhood. I recently came across this Scary Mommy article Why I Won’t Make My Kids Share. The author states that she doesn’t make her kids share with other kids. “Their choices, their consequences,” she says. “Sharing is weird.” She further elaborates that as adults, we are not forced to share our most prized possessions: our cars, our phone, our laptops. So why should we make our children share with each other?
While I don’t necessarily agree with her perspective, you won’t see me at the playground forcing my children to share either.
You won’t see me sitting back watching while they negotiate sharing disputes on their own, either. They are only four-year-olds! This is what you will see me doing:
- Helping the children figure out what the problem is
- Brainstorming problem solving ideas with them
- Encouraging children to decide on the best alternative
- Helping them carry out their decided upon solution
- Congratulating them on their positive problem solving techniques
This may not be the easiest solution, as it definitely requires some parental input. It would be amazing if I could sit on that bench at the playground that is meant for parents (that’s what it’s there for, right?)
But, that’s just not my style. While I let my children crash and burn sometimes, I also jump at the chance to expand their social horizons. So, this is how the truck-sharing incident played out yesterday:
- When the other boy started whining to me, I asked him what was the matter. I also asked my son what he believed was going on. The other boy stated he wanted the bulldozer. My son simply said, “I’m using it.”
- I then asked them how they could solve their problem. What could they do so they both could have fun playing with trucks? The other boy said my son could give him the bulldozer. My son said “here, you can use the dump truck.”. The other boy said they needed to take turns.
- I asked them if turn taking was what they wanted to do. They could each play with it for five minutes. The boys agreed.
- I told them I would time five minutes for them with my phone. And then they would switch. My son by this time was already done with the bulldozer and happily handed it to his new friend. He grabbed the excavator now and they both continued playing.
- I told them they did super great at solving their truck problem and let them continue playing.
Did I lecture them on how they needed to share with each other? No. Did I force them to take turns? No. Did I separate them? Distract them with something else? Disregard their feelings? Try to solve the problem myself? No, no, no, and no.
We don’t need to force our children to share with others. But we do need to guide them in how to positively interact with one another. By teaching our kids problem solving skills in regard to sharing, they will figure out how to find answers to their problems.
Sharing issues won’t dissolve overnight (developmentally my 2 year old won’t be able to understand perspective taking skills like sharing and turn taking for another two years now!); But as parents, we can stop grimacing when we hear a kid at the playground whine “He isn’t sharing with me” and start promoting our children’s early attempts at social problem solving.