Q. Our daughter is usually so pleasant but we have had a very hard time getting her to share. It is almost impossible in our own home and often just as much of a challenge at friend’s house. We feel sure that she knows better and often looks right at us as she snatches a toy or pushes her way into a space! How can we teach her to share and be a more compatible friend?
A. The first thing to remember is children are not able to control many of their behaviors. In fact, research shows that the part of the brain that controls impulses (prefrontal cortex) isn’t fully developed until age 25, so you can imagine what it looks like at age 2 or 3! Although it may appear that your child knows “right” from “wrong” and may sense your disapproval, she may not actually be able to stop herself from committing the offense. That being said, you can have a strong influence on the process. Giving your child opportunities to play with you and with others helps strengthen the development of that area of the brain.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the concept of “sharing” is much more abstract than “taking turns.” For example, here at the Heights Parent Center, I use the slide that sits in the middle of the room as a great teaching tool. Kids clamor for the slide, rush for it and try to slip in ahead of (or often on top of) the child in front of them. They also go around and try to climb up the front while someone else is trying to slide down causing a “traffic jam!”
Asking the kids to “share” the slide might be unclear and confusing. However, by stating the phrase “up the steps, down the slide” and naming the children and where they fall in the process --“Olivia slides while Ben waits, now Ben slides while Olivia waits”-- and repeat these (over and over sometimes) helps the children find the rhythm. Each child is playing a role -- waiting and sliding become two parts of the whole. This can then be transferred to other situations: “Elliot turns the first page and Sam lifts the flap,” and “Jack pushes the cart while Erin makes a path.” Children are creatures of habit and will find comfort in predictable patterns and expectations and parents find it helpful to have a few phrases that they can rely on to trigger the expected (hoped for) behavior.
Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Heights Parent Center for the last 12 years, fields questions about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues affect many parents. Ellen invites readers to send questions for her to firstname.lastname@example.org.