The (Lifelong) Saga of Learning to Share (Or When to Buy Two and Be Done with It!)

Amy Rees
February 21, 2014

There are almost too many aspects of socialization in a young child's life to count. Sitting in a chair at dinner, sitting in a circle for story time. Using your inside voice, keeping your hands to yourself. Finding words, especially at the times when emotions are most overwhelming. And that's only the very, very beginning of the list.

But here's the top of the list: sharing. Or, more appropriately for preschoolers, taking turns.

And maybe, just maybe, we grown-ups need a refresher course on sharing too. It is clearly not a skill that is fully mastered in the early years, though the foundation is laid then.

Sharing requires a sense of empathy (feeling that someone else's desire for something is worthy), a big dose of patience (when it's not my turn, it will be again soon), and flashes of the impossible (putting your own wants on hold for a second while someone else gets a turn). Whoa. All this we ask of kids who are in or not so far from diapers. Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Parents of twins get a crash course in how to minimize these struggles early. So do preschool teachers. They set up a room with lots of choices, and they help the littlest ones navigate through impulse control and into turn-taking. And they are empathetic, patient and impossibly kind themselves as they help out their class.

Here are some reflections on the lifelong saga of learning to share, the preschool edition:

Peace comes with abstract toys with tons of pieces or pieces that are all the same color. Unit blocks. Tinker Toys. Lincoln Logs. Everyone can build what she likes, and maybe the two structures can unite into a city. Or maybe not.

Shared—but separate—projects are also great tools of preschool diplomacy. A big long roll of butcher paper, lots of paint and brushes and fingers, and kids on opposite ends.

When you've got to broker the peace with some enforced turn-taking, think of a standard number you're going to count to, and then stick to it. If you always count to 20, then you don't negotiate whether this time Little Brother is going to get a turn until you count to 10 or 20. Or 200. Mommy always counts to 33, that's just the way it is.

Always allow your kids a few things that they decide ahead of a playdate (or forever at home) that they never have to share. Their lovey. Their brand-new doll or bike. No more than three, but those three can be untouchable.

If you're sharing a trike or a Razor or something prized like that with a friend who's visiting, think of having two helmets, so that at least the one who is waiting is ready to go at a moment's notice.

Cheap toys or things that are functioning as toys (yogurt containers in the sandbox, melamine cups at the tea party) should be plentiful. No sharing required if there are too many to count.

We are big fans of these three sharing rules from Stanford pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene. Asking permission, learning to say yes or offer an alternative, and treating others as you'd like to be treated. Like we told you, these are lifelong lessons to learn....

From the Parents

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