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On Toddlers and Sharing

Collecting all the info I found on sharing in one place

The first time we had a Montessori playgroup at my home, this issue came up: How to get kids to share? This is really a difficult question. As moms, we feel ashamed of our skills as parents when our kid goes up to another kid and grabs his toy from him. Knox does this to me all the time. But on the other hand, should that be the prime directive in parenting? Should our shame be the first reason why we want our child to stop doing something? Does it make a lasting impact on our children? How does the child feel about sharing? I brought this up during my consultation with Stephanie Woo, from Montessori on the Double. She has written 2 great posts about sharing, here and here. One thing that struck me during her talk was when she said:

We don’t use the word “share” in our household.

But then, how do you convey this very important concept? The first step is for ourselves as adults to exhibit generosity. When children see that we are gracious to others, they will model that behavior. Also, we must treat the child the same way we expect them to behave. For example: to show respect when taking something away from a child. Stephanie said I should hold out my hand and ask Knox to give something to me, instead of taking it away forcefully. If it is something he should not have and he refuses, I have respectfully given him the opportunity to give it back to me and now can take it away from him. This would be modeling the correct behavior in interacting with others (we do not grab, we ask for it).

*In the case of something he should not have, it is good to establish boundaries on the first hand – no you cannot have my coffee, no you cannot play with that vase; and/or have most of the items he is not allowed to touch somewhere inaccessible, AND have many things he can explore accessible.

When interacting with others, the main value we want to impart to a child is to be generous, it is not the word ‘sharing’ that counts, it’s the principle. What makes a person generous? A person who feels satisfied and fulfilled is naturally generous. A person who is made to feel deprived will never be generous. (Having things constantly taken away, being ‘forced’ to share.) In this Montessori lecture concerning normalization, “sharing” is indirectly mentioned among socialization, but framed as part of a greater trait:

There is only one specimen of each object, and if a piece is in use when another child wants it, the latter—if he is normalized—will wait for it to be released. Important social qualities derive from this. The child comes to see that he must respect the work of others, not because someone has said he must, but because this is a reality that he meets in his daily experience. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 223).

The best thing we can do is create for our child an environment of plenty, so he/she can feel satisfied. We also need to give children the space to interact and figure out their own social issues when interacting with other children. Of course this is a controlled environment. A toddler does not need unlimited amounts of candy at his disposal. But if he has a generous amount of fruit, then he can eat until he is satisfied. When a child is focused on working on something, we do not take it away from him because another child wants it and it shames us when ours is “Hogging it”, stressing that “bad trait” only make kids more material conscious and fearful of having it taken away, even beyond the point of themselves needing or enjoying it. I was at a pediatric clinic one time and there was a 5 year old child who was sitting on the car on springs there. He had bounced there happily for a while and was almost ready to leave, until Knox went up to it trying to climb in. The boy’s father called out to him “Let the younger boy take the car.” and the kid suddenly became focused on Knox. Staring at him while bouncing on the car, making a great show of enjoying the car to Knox. He only left when Knox wandered off, suddenly losing all pretense of finding the car amusing anymore. To focus on the ‘bad behavior’ seems to cultivate it.

“Encourage sharing. Don’t force it. A reluctant sharer may feel that his needs are less important than the other child’s needs. Forcing a child to comply is not the same as teaching him to be generous. Praise sharing when you see it.”

– online Montessori quote from forum (if you know the source please do inform me!)

With preschoolers, usually if their right to that item is protected they will typically share within 2-3 minutes of being asked, if not sooner.

– online forum quote from a Montessori teacher

At such a young age, control of one’s desires is very limited. Toddlers want something Now. It is up to us to ask the right questions, to facilitate the right connections. This does not involve forcefully taking one object away from one child and giving it to another. That will just create bad modeling. Instead, we articulate their needs and help them hear the other person’s needs. (A more advanced version of this with older kids for them to do themselves is conflict resolution through the Peace Table.)

For toddlers as young as Knox, it is important to keep the language simple and the options limited (never more than 2). I have just started trying this with Knox and I am amazed at how much he comprehends, despite not speaking yet.

Recently Knox has become interested in manipulating a pen – drawing and painting. About 2 months ago when I tried him on the Buddha mat I had just bought in Taiwan, he was more interested in poking the pen into the mat and splashing the water. I was alerted to his new interest last week when we participated in a free-for-all coloring workshop that we happened across while browsing the Museum of Islamic Arts (a most gorgeous building in Qatar, definitely worth visiting). I expected he would dab the paintbrush a little and then leave, but he actually sat with me for 10 minutes spreading lines of colors across the picture. Knox buddha matKnox buddha mat Of course, he wanted my pen. I told him “When I am finished with this pen, I will let you use it.” This calmed him down. He would still try to get my pen a few times, but whenever I said that he stopped and went back to his own pen. Knox buddha mat eventually I gave him my pen after I was done using it, and he was happy to exchange his pen for mine.

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 1.45.15 AM

2013/June 5th Update – Recently read developmental psychologist Paiget’s theory on children and sharing:

Piaget argued that children’s understanding of morality is like their understanding of (the law of conservation): we can’t say that it is innate, and we can’t say that kids learn it directly from adults. It is, rather, self-constructed as kids play with other kids. Taking turns in a game is like pouring water back and forth between glasses. No matter how often you do it with three-year-olds, they’re just not ready to get the concept of fairness, any more than they can understand the conservation of volume. But once they’ve reached the age of five or six, then playing games, having arguments, and working things out together will help them learn about fairness far more effectively than any sermon from adults.

– From The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, by Jonathan Haidt

Update March 19th, 2015 Sharing: The Magic Words


Other resources:

“Forced sharing comes from a sense of obligation, but genuine sharing is giving from the heart.”

“If they’re satisfied with the outcome, whether or not we adults view it as fair simply is not relevant.”

Children will often demonstrate that the interaction with another child is what interests them, not the toy itself. This is evident when there are multiples of a certain object available, yet the children are only interested in the one that has ‘heat.’ Soon after the struggle is over, the toy is usually dropped, becomes ‘cold,’ and no one wants it anymore. Children are best left to work these situations out by themselves while the adults insure that there is no hitting or hurting.

It is through play that children learn to get along with others. In play they must take into account the other children’s needs, learn to see from others’ points of view, learn to compromise, learn to negotiate differences, learn to control their own impulses, learn to please others so as to keep them as playmates. These are all hard lessons, and they are among the most important lessons that all of us must learn if we are to live happy lives. We can’t possibly teach these lessons to children; all we can do is let them play with others and let them experience themselves the consequences of their social failures and successes. The strong innate drive to play with others is what motivates every normal child to work hard at getting along with others in play. Failure to get along ends the game, and that natural consequence is a powerful learning experience. No lectures or words of advice that we can provide can substitute for such experience.

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Day 1 West Bay Montessori Play | When the diaper leaks

  2. Pingback: Sharing: The magic words | When the diaper leaks

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