Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spotlight Series: How to teach sharing to little ones

Happy Sunday morning! So, typically, I do not post on Sunday mornings because we are usually at church...but the whole lot of us are sick, and Mark has it the worst. He was out in the field all week (yes, including sleeping on the ground), had a cold the whole week, and started a fever Wednesday. Needless to say, he is sleeping right now. Me and the boys are hanging out and about to make pancakes :)

We're running into "the sharing issue", now that Cole is old enough to play with some baby toys. On one hand, most of our baby toys were Graemes just a few years ago. On the other hand, he has more than enough toys to play with of his own (that Cole cannot play with).

I've done a good bit of studying in early childhood education, and it is generally agreed that the concept of sharing isn't grasped until well towards 3 years old. However, I'm not willing to simply not teach sharing until he can understand it.

Here's a common scenario in our house lately:

Cole has one of Graeme's baby toys.
Graeme takes it from Cole.
Graeme says "no, no" to himself as he walks away, carrying "his" toy.

I read an excellent article on sharing, with even more excellent responses, on Kelly's blog. There were wonderful ideas, but most seemed to apply to older children. However, I gathered that the main idea is to maintain a balance between responsible possession and willing generosity. The goal is for our children to want to be generous with what God's given them. (Goodness, some of us adults don't even have that down yet!)

What does that look like for the toddler? What are some ways I can instruct my son about sharing while having reasonable expectations appropriate to his level of understanding?

1. Role-play
As often as I can during the day, I'm trying to demonstrate sharing - and point it out verbally to my son. Whether in books, during mealtime, or while playing, we have to show them how to share, as well as point out the benefits of sharing.

2. Praise
Graeme is quite generous, actually. He's more than willing to share his food with Mama, and I often catch him bringing a toy to Cole for him. When he does those things, it's a wonderful opportunity for me to praise his generosity, saying "That was very kind" or "Thank you for sharing with Mama!" I'm labeling what he is doing for him, so that when I ask him to share or to be kind, he knows what that "looks" like.

3. Respect prior ownership
Now here's something I hadn't been doing. Once our children are older, I plan on letting them have their own toys (not sure how we'll delineate that yet). The other children will know that they must ask to play with those toys before taking them. I believe this will teach responsible possession - giving the owner a chance to make the choice to share, and respecting his ownership.

Just because the baby toys are simply "baby toys" to me, doesn't mean Graeme feels that way. I brought out all these toys before Cole arrived, and Graeme re-bonded with them. Now I'm telling him they are Cole's? That doesn't make sense.

For the toys that Graeme distinctly feels a sense of ownership towards, I'm calling them "his toys" and have started asking if he'd share them with Cole. So far, I've liked the results. Several times, I've seen the wheels in Graeme's head turning as he goes through the process of deciding to share, then watched as he took a special toy over to Cole. I love it when that happens!

For toys that were specifically given to Cole, they are Coles, so if Graeme picks it up, I'll say "Can you give Cole his bear?" Trying to teach him that his brother has ownership, too. Just because Graeme is the bigger and more capable child doesn't automatically grant him any-toy access.

4. Honor current possession

Now, that being said about ownership, there is also the issue of possession. That is where we have the most trouble. When Cole has a toy, it's not acceptable for Graeme to take it. Once they are both older, I will instruct them to ask to play with a toy, or wait until the current possessor is done. Obviously, Cole can't grant Graeme permission to have the toy right now. So I'm struggling with how to handle this one. If I tell Graeme that he must ask me for permission, he'll end up coming to me all the time, saying "pease, pease"! And Cole won't have a chance with a toy lol! Plus, Graeme certainly doesn't need to get focused on Cole's toys (covetousness) - he has plenty of his own that Cole can't even play with right now.

So I think the best course is simply that if Cole is playing with a toy, Graeme must wait until Cole is done with it. Or I may intervene at times and wait until Cole drops the toy to offer it to Graeme.

There are probably more simply ways to deal with this. But simplicity is not always the greatest good! The whole concept of sharing is such a rich opportunity to instruct with Scripture, whether it be kindness, respect, compassion, generosity, self-lessness, coveting, giving...the Bible is full of wonderful verses to use during these episodes.

The challenge is to USE those opportunities for good, instead of focusing simply on getting everyone happy (so that you can get back to cooking dinner or whatever). That's what I tend to lose sight of!

What is your "sharing policy"? What has worked in your house? Has it changed as the children got older? Please share! If you post about it on your blog, tell me in a comment, or you can just comment here :)


Alyssa said...

Very good post, Amanda. Well thought through and balanced. I love seeing how the Lord is giving you wisdom as you ask for it. (It encourages me to do the same!!)

Laura said...

I'm certainly no expert, but of course I've had some experience in this area. I've read similar things about children not grasping the concept of sharing until around 3, but I have to say that I don't agree with that at all. Hannah understands sharing, and she's not 2 yet. Esther isn't yet 3, and if she didn't understand and practice sharing we'd be having some major problems right now. I don't think that my children are any smarter than yours or anyone elses, though I do think that having older siblings helps a ton. Joshua was much slower to grasp it, mainly because he is the firstborn and didn't have an older sibling to learn from. (For some reason they seem to learn these things much better from each other than they do from us!) Anyway, all that to say that once Graeme really gets the hang of it I think that Cole will see him and want to follow his example.

The most effective tool for teaching sharing (among other things) in our house has been Scripture. There's something about pointing to a verse in the Bible and reading it to the children that really gets their attention and makes them understand. It's exactly what I pray for, so it's exciting to see when it happens.

It does change as they get older too. Joshua, Abigail and Esther know that they are not allowed to grab toys and they know how to respond when someone tries to grab what they have. I encourage them to work it out between themselves instead of running to me crying about it. If someone comes to me whining about how so-and-so took their toy, I ask if they responded in a kind and proper manner. They usually stop and say "Oh, I forgot", and then they run off to take care of things properly. That's usually the last I hear about it until the next squabble! It gets easier when they can communicate really well too.

It's getting late and I'm not sure how much sense I'm making, so I'll quit. :)