Monday, May 19, 2008

Teaching a Toddler to Share?

Several months ago I was meeting with a mom support group.  One of the moms asked about teaching sharing to her 18 month old.  I said what my husband and I had done with our daughter, which seems to have worked.  But then all the other moms insisted that young children cannot and should not be taught to share.  Sharing is not natural, they said, and toddlers definitely are not programmed to be capable of grasping the concept.  I was startled.  Today I was reviewing the sharing concept with my daughter, and she was really fussy about it.  She hasn't always been like that.  

I had taught her how to share in two parts.  First, we started at home.  She's an only child, and so she doesn't have any sibling competition.  So during music time one evening, my husband and I started taking turns with her playing with the sticks.  We did it to the rhythm of a song she knew.  During one semi-lengthy phrase of music, dad would get to play with them.  During the next phrase, she would.  During the next phrase, I would, and then back around again.  We did it to the music so that she would be able to predict how long she had to wait to get the sticks back.  She protested at first, but then she got the hang of it after a few rotations and became quite the eager sharer.

Second, I worked with her in the presence of other toddlers her age, who care far more than her dad or I who is playing with what.  I started with a 2 and a half year old, whose special doll my daughter wanted to hold.  I prompted the older child to share with this little baby (my daughter), and she unhappily but willingly complied.  I applauded this child's really, really good sharing, saying what a good sharer she is and what a big girl she is.  She was so happy to hear this, that she proceeded to get everything she could off the shelf to share it with my daughter.  Then my daughter, having seen and experienced this other child sharing with her, was happy to share right back.  I've done this in numerous settings now with other kids, and it always works once we get over the initial sharing hump.  

So I really thought this was all well and good until these mothers insisted that children cannot and should not be asked to share.  At first I just disregarded them, but then today when I was practicing taking turns with my daughter as we played with her toy horse, she was going nuts.  "NNNOOOOO!!!" she would squeal when it was my turn.  I pried the toy out of her hands a couple of times, certain she would get the hang of it, but it just made her madder, and I started to feel uneasy about insisting on taking it from her.   And I noticed that she was getting in the habit of handing me the toy for my turn, then not letting go of it and throwing a fit when I reached to take it, but insisting that I reach to take it if I decided not to...  And she's not really consistent with sharing anymore when we're with other kids.  

So I really want to know whether or not to continue to pursue the sharing skill.  I think the music teaching went really well, and maybe we should review it that way more often.  Maybe the problem is that I just assumed, "Okay, now she shares," and didn't review it enough in general.  But I really want to know from other homeschooling moms who are intentionally teaching social skills to their children whether or not sharing is something to work on for a 20 month only child.  


Queen of Carrots said...

There are different kinds of "sharing," and I think some are appropriate to teach toddlers and some are not. To put it in economic turns, there is free-market sharing (allocating scarce community resources in an equitable way with the agreement of all parties) and then there is communist sharing (obliterating all distinctions of personal property).

Turn-taking on certain kinds of toys (or in games) can be free-market sharing. It needs to be well-defined when it is whose turn. I like your music example very much.

Having two children close in age, another issue is with community toys, such as blocks or playdough. If the children are not happily able to split these themselves, then I usually divide them and expect them to each keep their own share separate, or otherwise only take a reasonable portion. With crayons, for instance, you can only color with one crayon at a time, so there is no call for monopolizing a huge pile. These sorts of toys are essentially mine, and I set the terms on how they can be used.

When it comes down to special toys, though, no, I would not ask a young child to share those. That implies that those things do not really belong to you, but can be reallocated by a higher authority. My kids each have toys that are their own, and the other child may only play with them with express permission, which may be revoked at any time. The same would apply to friends coming over. (With friends, though, I would make a special effort to talk ahead of time about which toys we would let the friend play with in order to have fun together, if I expected it to be an issue.) I do expect appreciation if a child, ON HER OWN, volunteers a special toy to show kindness to a friend, but an adult requiring it obliterates the virtue and creates confusion, in my opinion.

Well, there's quite a thesis on it. :-) I'm not completely consistent with it, but that's how I tend to approach it.

Silvia said...

This is just my personal opinion, but I don't think you need to worry about "teaching" sharing to your child. As kids get older, they start to get the concept. I think it's nice to talk about sharing, but until they are developmentally ready for it, it's not going to really affect them. :) Till then, it's just a game to play with you. LOL

Thanks for sending this to the carnival!

klh said...


Thanks for your comment! I have a follow up question, though. What are you basing your opinion upon? Research? Observations of people teaching their toddlers to share unsuccessfully and then around some other age suddenly getting it? I really want to know, because it is clear that there are strongly held opinions on this (and virtually every other) issue in parenting, but I rarely hear rational.

One other thing - I agree that it is a game at this age. But I disagree that this nullifies the learning. When my daughter plays with her little shape-sorter toy, she's playing a game, but that doesn't mean she isn't learning shapes in the process. In fact, she knows the basic shapes because we play games with and about them. And so when we play the "taking turns" game, I agree that for her it is a game. But I don't think that means she necessarily isn't learning the concept of "taking turns" in the process.

Thanks again.

~Babychaser~ said...

What a great question/topic! I would have to say that I mostly disagree with everyone else here on this one. I think sharing is very important, but I'm not sure I want to teach it in and of itself. The important lesson for our little ones to learn is selflessness.

If a child (at any age) is not sharing a desired toy, I am more concerned for the state of his/her heart. Yes, it is the natural thing for toddlers/babies to NOT share. That's because, naturally, our little ones are sinners. Our job as parents (from the moment they are born) is to teach our children that they are sinners in need of a savior. Secondarily, we should be working on the matters of their hearts... selflessness being a prime one. A selfless child shares willingly... it's just a product of a child who has a heart after God.

You asked about sources... where am I getting this? Right from Scripture! If you want a secondary book to read with some great teaching along these lines, I heartily recommend Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. It's a great read about training our children up in Christ!