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It's Mine - Teaching Children about Sharing

(Note this article is by Patty Wipfler from Hand In Hand Parenting)

When children want something, their feelings are often passionate. They can be gripped by a desire so strong that no other option will do. Every cell in their bodies is organised to communicate that having the blue shovel or the green balloon is the key to their happiness—a yellow shovel or a red balloon simply won't do. But as any parent who has tried to enforce sharing knows, taking turns at those moments is far easier said than done.

In this article, we'll look at why every child has at least some difficulties sharing, and we'll suggest a policy that you can establish that will move your child toward being able to share more of the time.

Children Love to Share

Children actually love to share. When they're babies, they like to give us things, and have us give those things back. When they're a bit older, they like to take a plate of cookies and offer one to each person in the room. When older still, they love the games that include everyone in the family. And when they are relaxed and feeling secure, children even love to see someone else enjoy their favorite things.

To be able to share, a child needs to feel a strong sense of connection, he needs to feel loved and warmly accepted. When he feels close to others and emotionally safe, he's not so desperate for the blue shovel or the green balloon. He can wait for a turn. He has what he really needs; a sense of connection buoys him through little disappointments.

What Children Really Want and Need

Sharing goes hand in glove with being relaxed and feeling loved. Children have a few vital needs, and when these needs are filled, they can relax. They feel secure enough to play flexibly and respond thoughtfully to the needs and wishes of others. We all know that children need good food, good sleep, fresh air, room to play safely, and access to at least one or two people who are committed to their well-being. Parents, warmth, food, and safety: these are the most basic needs.

But in order to relax and thrive, children need a few more vital things. Blue shovels and green balloons aren't on this list. My list of what a child needs to thrive goes something like this:

    * The daily opportunity to connect and be relaxed with someone who cares
    * Emotional warmth and welcome
    * Respect for his intelligence
    * Time for play
    * Lots of affection
    * Frequent opportunities to laugh together with others
    * Frequent opportunity to cry, in the shelter of someone's arms, when hurt feelings  arise
    * Information about what is happening and why
    * Limits—enforced without violence—that promote safety and respect

Two Main Reasons Sharing Breaks Down

When children aren’t able to share, it's usually for one of two reasons. Either they haven't been able to establish a sense of connection in the past few hours, or something has happened to remind them of hurtful times in the past, when they felt afraid or alone.

When Children Don't Feel Connected, They Can't Share

Often, we parents don't notice how much time passes between moments when we can offer emotional warmth and connection. Life is full, and putting food on the table and a roof over one's head is increasingly difficult. We meet the external needs of our children; we dress them, give them food, and see that they bathe and brush their teeth.

But the time parents have to create playful, relaxed connections with their children dwindles every year as workplace demands grow and communities struggle to provide safe and decent places for children. For dual-career couples with children under eighteen, the combined on-the-job hours have increased from an average of eighty-one a week in 1977 to ninety-one in 2002—according to the Work and Family Institute. And this does not take commuting hours into account.

So it's no wonder that children have spells of "off track" behaviour. They are bound to spin out of orbit, given the amount of other work we parents are expected to do.

To a child, a sense of connection is like a tightrope walker's long pole: feeling close to someone keeps a child in balance, so he can do challenging things with grace and confidence. Without that sense of connection, his ability to function lasts only a few seconds. Unhitched from a close bond, he feels too tense to share, too unsure of his own safety to take turns.

When a child becomes brittle, any little disappointment brings up lots of tears or tantrums about what he wants. The child aches to be brought close, but he focuses on needing a blue shovel or a green balloon to signal his parents that he needs help.

How Children Signal that they Need Connection

Comments (2)

YvetteVignando's picture

Sharing is hard

That's great to hear - sharing is hard, even for adults I reckon! Patty Wipfler wrote a great article here. Enjpy the cuddles!

Thanks for the great advice

Hi Yvette,

This article has given me the endorsement that I wasn't doing too bad in the toddler sharing and negotiation department and I should continue down the road I am on. As a mum of a toddler who is just over 2, I am finding the best outcomes happen when I support and comfort him through the situation. It just seems like a waste of energy to try and find that thing they say they want when all they want is a cuddle and reassurance....