Teaching children to share

Sharing can be very tricky … especially when you are a pre-school child. You have a toy and another child comes up to you and tries to take that toy off you – why should you give it them? Then an adult comes along and says, ‘Share’ and you have to give it to them because they want it – it’s your toy and you were happy until they decided to crash your party. Now you are angry and you might throw another toy or scream and shout or fight or refuse … and then you get told off for misbehaving and not sharing!

Then the adult who told you off goes to your parent/s and tells them that you cannot share and they need to help teach you to what…? They need to teach you to hand over whatever you are playing with when someone else asks for it or takes it from you – without getting upset!!

It seems very strange when you look at it like that doesn’t it? Why would a child be happy to hand over something they are playing with… would you be happy to hand over your pen in the middle of writing a sentence or give your mobile phone to someone else because they wanted to take it away? How about if they came over and bopped you on the head for it – would you be happy to give it to them then? Yet we spend a lot of time trying to teach children to do exactly that!

So how do we support children and resolve sharing issues? There are a number of strategies used by childminders – quite a few use a timer and say that a child can play with a toy for a short time until the timer goes off – then it must be handed over to someone else. How does that teach a child that the world is fair? He can’t possibly concentrate, learn at his deepest level and fully enjoy his play knowing that he is about to lose the toy to someone else.

Some larger providers buy duplicates of the most popular toys – and this does resolve some conflicts and sharing issues – but where do you stop? Is your house big enough to have 2 of everything? If you have a child who continually takes toys from others, they will want whatever their friend has, regardless of duplicates on the shelves.

Of course, sometimes it’s an even more complicated scenario and you then have the child who sits on a basket full of toys and refuses to let anyone else near them… or the child who guards ‘his’ trains or ‘her’ dolls from everyone… or the child who is told to give something back, only to note that the other child has now moved on.

If you have younger children yourself, it is also important to recognise that you are probably asking your own child to share all their toys. It can be useful to have a playroom full of neutral resources purchased for work with your child’s special toys in their bedroom for evenings and weekends – everything in my house is mine and I am very good at sharing!

Here at Knutsford Childminding we look at the other side of teaching children to share and focus on supporting them so they learn how to behave appropriately in a group environment. We teach them from the earliest age depending on their level of understanding as part of our commitment to preparing them for a bigger group. We want them to understand that it is not ok to take toys from others. The temptation for any provider is to be reactive and plan some activities to try and resolve problems when they arise… but we believe it is more important to spend time proactively teaching all the children including the potential snatcher and grabber alternative ways to resolve issues before it becomes a problem.

Teaching children to wait, be patient and understand that someone else has rights etc is linked very closely to teaching them about empathy (we do lots of work on emotions as well – I will blog about this another time). When they understand the needs of other children and can put themselves in another child’s shoes they will be one step closer to recognising how their friend feels when a toy is taken from them.

Most childminders organise group times through the day – sitting together at snack or lunch is a good time to introduce some PSED related learning. Some providers use circle time which, although is not very appropriate for little ones, can be very useful for teaching age 2+ children who can normally sit and listen or chat about things for a few minutes. At Knutsford Childminding, we use a combination of meal times for everyone and circle time for our older children. We use a range of different teaching strategies including puppets, teddies and dolls, made up stories, books and games (depending on how the children are learning at the time) to work through different scenarios and teach children about difference, similarities, feelings, empathy, understanding etc.

We talk to the children about how it feels to have something taken away from them and share some coping strategies so they learn how to react appropriately if another child forgets to stay within the boundaries. It’s important to regularly reinforce group rules about taking turns and sharing in a positive way – we take turns … we are kind to our friends …

It is also important to respond to children positively when they forget – we acknowledge they want the toy / game and ask them to wait until their friend has finished with it: while at the same time gently and calmly explaining the effect their actions have on others.

I have talked about sharing and taking turns and much more in my e-book 4 ‘Behaviour Management’ from my Knutsford Childminding website.

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