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 organized to communicate that having the blue shovel or the green balloon is 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 in those moments is far easier said than done. The children are playing when all of a sudden my four-year old cries, “Mommy, he took my toy!” She buries her head in my lap, sobbing pitifully. Of course the six year old replies,”I had it first” holding the prized item high above his head. To which I reply, “You need to share. You’ve had it for a long time now. Let’s set the timer for five minutes and when it beeps, let your sister play with it.” Problem solved for about fifteen minutes. Then WAAAhh and another report of a horrible crime. Learning to share is a normal developmental process and can be a challenging concept to teach.
Sense of Fairness Changes as a Child Develops
It is important to realize that the sense of fairness or empathy for others changes as a child develops. Children as young as seven are just as likely as adults to do the right thing by their friends, in contrast to kids between three and four, who are almost universally selfish, reports the study carried out at the Universities of Zurich, Switzerland, and Erfurt, Germany. What is fascinating about the study in the journal Nature, led by Prof Ernst Fehr, is that children do not simply become more generous but develop a clear sense of what is fair and what is not. A toddler to three-year old is only aware of his/her own personal feelings. They have not yet developed the ability to understand that what they do may hurt or negatively affect other people. “The world revolves around ME” is the motto of a two-year old. As children reach four or five, they start to realize that other people have feelings, too. This is when sharing and fairness become easier for them to understand. When you are teaching, you can explain why he/she should be kind and share. At this age, they can remember what it feels like when someone doesn’t share with them. They can start to understand that their actions can make others feel bad.
How to Deal with Arguments Over Sharing?
Taking turns takes practice. Kids need to know that there are a lot of options when it comes to taking turns. As they fill their toolbox full of ideas, they can brainstorm together to find the best method. Using a timer, setting a schedule, counting jumps on a trampoline or giving the blue crayon when they’re done coloring the sky are all solutions to explore. Prevention: If you know that both kids are going to want something that you are going to give them, you can prevent the fight by setting guidelines early on. Such as, “I have something fun for both of you. John will get to use it for five minutes and Susie can have it for the next five minutes.” Get them to agree on the rules of sharing beforehand. If your young child is having a playdate, put your child’s prized possessions away so that the visiting child won’t be tempted to play with them. Talk about sharing toys before the playdate so that your child understands that someone else will be playing with his toys. Intervene early – when you hear arguments beginning, distract them if you can and steer them to another, less contentious, activity. Give age-appropriate guidance – spending time lecturing a two-year old on sharing, hitting, biting, or being fair is a little bit like Charlie Brown’s teachers saying “wah wah wah wah wah” to the children. Your preschooler is not capable of understanding all of the nuances of being nice.
It is Important to Give Praise
Praise is a potent form of reward to encourage positive behaviors in your child. Why so powerful? It features the most powerful reward of them all – parental attention – combined with the almost-as-powerful technique of telling children exactly what to do – rather than what not to do – to earn that attention. Plenty of research suggests that paying attention to desirable behaviors, rather than paying attention to and correcting mild misbehaviors (whining, bargaining, interrupting), is far more effective with children. Research also shows that labeled praise – “Good job sharing your toys!” works better than unlabeled praise “Good job!” This will reinforce the “good” behavior that you want. If you focus too much on the less desirable or “bad” behavior, it will reinforce the “bad” behavior. Children naturally crave attention from their parents and understand that even negative attention is still attention. (Think of how toddlers love throwing something on the floor over and over again, just to watch you pick it up! They keep doing this because you are paying attention to their behavior.)
A real feeling of joy and accomplishment will come. When your child spontaneously shares or goes out of their way to help another child, it’s a great moment. Some children are natural helpers and learn early that it feels good to make others happy. Others need more coaching, but do not despair, for they will learn.
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About Pediatrics of Florence
We believe that children are more than just “little adults.” They have unique personalities, challenges, and life circumstances and we have made every effort to make our offices and care as “kid friendly” as possible. We have an aquatic theme in the waiting rooms (separated for sick and well children) as well as themed examination rooms. All of our physicians are Board Certified Pediatricians and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and our nurse practitioners are all licensed Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and are available to see both well and sick children.