Your 3-year-old wants the toy another child is holding, so she reaches over and grabs it. The second child begins to cry, but your child seems unaffected. What do you do next? Navigating the world of possessions is difficult for small children. Parents and caregivers often want to encourage children to share with their peers, but it is easier said than done. Teaching generosity is a long process, but it results in your child learning essential lifelong skills. With these simple tips, you can assist your children as they learn to share.
Remember That Empathy Is Still New
Learning to put yourself in someone’s shoes is a skill that children develop later, meaning that toddlers and preschoolers are not good at understanding the feelings of others. A child who takes what she wants isn’t mean. She just doesn’t understand the social ramifications. A young child’s focus is on her own feelings and desires, and this is entirely normal. The ability to share willingly typically develops between ages 3 and 4. If you remind yourself that seemingly selfish behaviors are developmentally appropriate, it will help you respond to your child’s actions with patience rather than shock and embarrassment.
Safety Comes First
The primary effort of a caregiver in toddler conflict should be the safety of all the children involved. This means that you may intervene when a child grabs or tries to take the desired object simply to ensure that the children don’t hurt one another. It is not uncommon for children to respond with aggression when they do not get what they want. When children begin to fight over a toy, move closer and be prepared to gently help a child move away and calm down if the incident requires it.
Narrate Conflicts to Help Children Process
When a child does not want to share or takes a toy from another child, they are not yet capable of understanding how that makes the other child feel. Facial expressions and other social clues are still a mystery as their brains are developing. For this reason, it can be very helpful for children if adults narrate conflicts and help them read the situation. Making comments like, “Olivia is sad that you took the train” or “Caleb really wants the next turn on the slide” assists your child in connecting the actions of others with their feelings. Your descriptions can also include the feelings of your own child, giving him the words that go along with his own feelings and desires.
It is rare in the adult world that anyone is expected to give up what they have just because someone else wants it. With this in mind, encourage your child to learn about turn-taking without forcing anyone to immediately give something up when asked. There are many ways to establish taking turns. Some parents choose to allow the child with the desired toy to play until they are satisfied, simply letting them know that the “next turn” goes to the waiting child. Others prefer to use a timer or a set amount of time so that the turns are more equitable. Either way, it is good for both children that no one is forced to give up a toy immediately on command. Transitions take time and warnings are extremely helpful.
Offer Children the Chance to Create Solutions
Because children are so small, it is easy to underestimate their problem-solving abilities. However, even young children can come to agreements, especially with a little assistance. Begin with a question like, “It looks like you both want to play with the same doll. What do you think we should do?” Of course, you will probably hear solutions like “Give it to me!” But it is also likely that the children will find alternatives like, “Let’s play together!” or “I’ll take this one instead.” The more opportunities a child has to be flexible and find solutions, the more naturally they will learn to share.
Parents often feel that a toddler or preschooler who struggles to share is a reflection on them personally. However, helping a child learn to share is a long process. As you well know, even some adults are still learning how to be generous and gracious with their peers! Remember to give yourself and your child lots of grace as you navigate this growing period together. Are you looking for childcare that encourages kindness and generosity while also holding appropriate views of child development? Please consider Legacy Academy Berkeley Lake for your childcare needs. Contact us today with any questions or to schedule a visit.