(Amended October 2023 to fix formatting and links)
GIVE IT BACK..... Mummy, he's taken my toy ..... MMMMMUUUUUUUUUMMMY!
Sound familiar? This was an all too familiar refrain in our house when my kids were younger, and to be honest, I still hear it far more often than I'd like. So when you asked me to share tips on how can I get my kids to share, I had to think first about how well we're doing!!
If your child is under three, then sharing isn't developmentally appropriate behaviour. That doesn't mean your two year old will never share, it simply means we can't expect it. So, 1. Each time they do share, point it out. Try to use neutral language, rather than praise. So "Look at you, you just gave Tom your toy car" rather than "Mummy is so proud of you for sharing your toy car." 2. Time is abstract, so telling our two year old he can play with a toy for 2 minutes and then has to share is complicated. Instead, try 'when you have finished.' "When you put the car down, we will know that you have finished, and Tom can play with it". 3. Recognise where your need for the sharing comes from. If you are outdoors and another child wants your toddler's bike, it can be embarrassing to have your child say "NO, MINE!" . We don't want the other parent to think badly of US. Be consistent, and explain them to the other child that YES they can have a go when our child has finished. 4. Again for the playground, use prevention - don't take out the exciting new toy if you know your child won't want to share.
Modelling the behaviour we want to see.. (Spolier alert, it isn't easy :-) If you've been to one of my parenting workshops, you will probably have done an activity that teaches us that we are better at looking than listening. (Need a clue? If I say "chin/cheek", now do you remember the activity?!!") About 70% of what we communicate is 'para-verbal' - it's not what we say, it's all the information around that - the tone of our voice, what we do, what our body-language is communicating. So, when it comes to sharing, then we need to model the behaviour that we want to see in our kids, and show them how to share.
And this can definitely start before they are three years old (all the while not 'expecting' them to share). We can play games where we pass things along, and co-operative games are especially good for this (such as Premier verger from Haba and Little cooperation from Djeco toys* ). Now, I'm not advocating sharing your most precious jewels, or your make-up (despite my daughter's consistent 'persuasion') but I do think we need to be generous with our own things - lend them to neighbours, give time to local projects, etc.
We spent 2017 travelling around the UK in a motorhome, and had a monthly giving fund. Each month in family meeting we would decide together how to give that money away - often to a charity that we'd been involved in the previous month (we might have been to a nature reserve, or seen a beach cleaning project, for example). Finally, practice, practice, practice. Do role-plays where you practice sharing, ask your child to hand out the biscuits to their siblings, or to cut the cake into slices for everyone. What do you do to model sharing and generosity?
Rudolf Dreikurs, the psychologist behind Positive Discipline, talks about 'winning children over' (rather than winning over children).
What this looks like is getting children involved in the decision making process, while you as the adult are responsible for providing the safe framework.
So, when they are little it will involve limited choices (do you want the red or the blue toothbrush tonight), and as they grow older, our job is to give them more opportunities to practice their decision-making skills.
For slightly older children it could be about deciding on the order of bedtime routines together.
For a tween, it may look like brainstorming solutions to a problem such as who sets the table each day of the week. Or inviting them to join you while you cook dinner, and getting them involved.
And for teenagers, it might be 'I'd love for you to go to University, but it sounds like that's not what your priority is - can we have a chat about it this weekend? Maybe we could go out for a walk, shall we go in to Paris?'
If you'd like to know how to get your kids to share more, and build co-operation in your home, then get in touch. I offer my individual coaching clients a free 20 min discovery call - I look forward to hearing from you.
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