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Sharing, Taking Turns, and Other Things That Suck

I don't know about your little ones, but mine didn't exactly come out of the womb wanting to share their toys.  Here are some thoughts on the matter. ----------------

I want it!

Give it back!

It’s mine!

Sound familiar? If you have small children, it does.

And, while on the one hand kids love to share and give—they light up when they give a present, for example—self-sacrifice doesn’t come quite so easily.

If you think about it, sharing is actually a pretty complicated social situation. It requires quite sophisticated thinking and emotional intelligence. It demands that we think ahead, consider another person’s desires, balance our emotions and control our impulses. Most adults sometimes struggle with these skills!

RELATED: 8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Sharing is an awful lot to ask of a little one, particularly when we intrude upon what she’s doing in a given moment. When young children have a hard time taking turns or sharing, it's often because they have difficulty handling their big feelings. They don't yet have the skills to say, "I'm sorry, but I’d rather play with these blocks by myself right now.” So instead, they handle the situation their own way. They throw a fit. They grab. They hit. They cry.

Sharing isn’t usually fun. And it’s not easy to do. But as you know, it’s one of the skills children need to learn. So how do we help them develop the ability to share and take turns?

Here are some suggestions:


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Is There a Good Way to Respond to a Tantrum?

As a mom with three boys, who are three, six, and nine years old, my experience has been that ages three and four are the hardest ages (so far.)  The parts of the brain that help control impulses and calm emotions are just still very undeveloped, but their emotional range and desires are in full force!  At these ages, when they are losing it and having a full blown tantrum, they are not really in a teachable frame of mind.  So what do you do? 1.  Identify with the feeling:  "You're really angry/annoyed/frustrated."

2.  Give the directive to stop the behavior "Hitting is not OK" or “No more throwing, please.”

3.  Change the situation (either remove her, distract her, or get her onto something else).

4.  Talk about the behavior when she’s in a calm state of mind.

I want to focus now on this last step.  Conventional wisdom says you have to address misbehavior immediately, or the child won’t remember.  But the fact is that a child won’t hear what you’re trying to teach if she’s tantruming.  So yes, address the issue as soon as you can, but only when the child is in a calm and receptive state of mind (and it might even need to be the next day).

You can do it in a way where she feels like you two are just talking, not like she's in trouble.  Just something like, "Hmmm.  You know yesterday, you got so mad.  You hit your friend, then you kicked mommy.  I wonder why you were having such a hard time. . . Do you have any ideas about why?"  This way, she's being given the opportunity to get practice reflecting on her behavior and getting into the practice of self-insight.  I know you won’t usually get great answers at ages three and four, but you’re laying the groundwork.

Also, ask her what she could do differently next time she gets so mad.  Ask what she would like for you to do to help her calm down.  Asking questions like these will help her continue to learn about relationships, planning ahead, the need to regulate emotions, expressing herself appropriately, etc.  It will also communicate how important her input and ideas are to you.  She’ll more and more understand that she's an individual, separate from you, but that you are very interested in her thoughts and feelings.  LOTS of opportunities here for wonderful experiences that are great for a growing preschooler!

Cutting Our Kids (and Ourselves) Some Slack

Try to remember that your child’s brain is still under construction.  They can’t be perfect all the time, yet without realizing it, we often expect perfection.  During times you feel increasingly frustrated with your child, remember that most of the time they are doing the best they can at that particular moment.  And be gracious with yourself, because you’re usually doing your best as well.  This doesn’t mean we don’t have high expectations for our kids, or that we don’t require them to be responsible and do what they’re supposed to do.  It also doesn’t mean we don’t take time to understand ourselves more deeply in order to parent more intentionally.  It just means that we need to be patient, understanding, and forgiving—with our children, and with ourselves.

Fairness: A Parenting Tip

“That’s not fair!” How often do you hear it? If your kids are anything like mine, you hear it a lot. One day I got sick of telling them that “Life isn’t fair.” It didn’t seem to be registering. So instead, we started to tell our kids that in our family, fair does not mean equal. If one of us has to get a shot, we don’t ALL get shots. Only the person who NEEDS the shot gets it. The underlying principle is that everyone in the family will get what they need, and that needs are different from wants.

Teaching Kids to Wait

Using short waiting times and reinforcing the behavior of “waiting” by then giving them what they’ve been waiting for right then and there, and then praising them will do a much more effective job of teaching waiting. Then we can stretch the times we ask them to wait.