It?s a rare toddler who willingly hands over her precious bunny to another child without the least bit of resistance. For most me-centered toddlers, cries of "I had it first!" or "Mine!" are the more likely response.
Still, we want to teach our children this essential skill eventually. So what can parents realistically expect from toddlers who aren?t naturally inclined to yield their possessions to other kids?
Developmentally speaking, the 2s and 3s are a time of parallel learning?playing side by side, rather than together?says clinical psychologist Lauralyn Hundley, Ph.D. "Although the concept of sharing can be promoted, children this age shouldn?t be forced to share their toys," she says. "I see too many parents trying to shame or punish their children into sharing, and it usually backfires, turning into a power struggle."
Rather than focusing on the fact that your toddler doesn?t share, capitalize instead on her eagerness to please and willingness to learn. Here are some suggestions:
Look for examples of others sharing and point them out to your child. "Did you see what your brother did? He shared his cake with Daddy!" If you catch your toddler sharing something, commend him, being careful not to go overboard. "Commenting favorably is better than lavishing a lot of praise," says Hundley. "The goal is to instill the value of sharing. You don?t want your child to get so preoccupied with your enthusiastic response that he loses sight of the thing he did right in the first place."
Periodically expose your toddler to other children her age, especially if yours is an only child. Join a play group, or arrange for another child to play at your home for an hour a few times a week. Supervise this playtime closely, however, and be prepared to intervene when problems arise. Wendy Hinman, whose seven children include a feisty 2-year-old daughter, babysits another 2-year-old girl several times a week. "I find the best way to get cooperative play is to set the parameters myself," Wendy says. "When Joelle comes over, I divide the playthings in half, making sure both girls understand which toys belong to whom." When the inevitable eruptions occur, Wendy quietly restores the original toys to their owners.
Children this age learn best through imitation. Perhaps the best way to instill the idea of sharing in your toddler is to model it. If you have a cookie in your hand, break a piece of it off, give it to your child, then smile and say, "Mommy?s sharing her cookie with you" or "Would you like me to share this with you?"
Learning to value others begins at infancy. The more it?s encouraged, promoted and modeled in the home, the quicker and more naturally this behavior will be developed in your child.
Writer, educator, mother of three
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