“Mine, mine, mine!” This phrase was part of a cute scene from the Disney Pixar movie Finding Nemo. The seagulls sitting on the rock, claiming everything to be theirs, is a scene our family still imitates to this day.
But when it’s a word you hear over and over from your child or charge, it’s not so cute or endearing. How to deal with this has a lot to do with how old the child is. So, let’s break it down into age groups to give you some guidance.
Under age 2
These kiddos are just now learning the difference between something that truly is theirs or something that really does belong to someone else. They have been encouraged to reach, crawl, walk, hold and manipulate items, etc. so to some extent, they are just continuing a stage of exploration. For an older sibling, this can be frustrating, especially when they are encouraged to share but get tired of sharing everything, only to have it slobbered on or simply thrown on the floor. Often, really young children don’t mind sharing, unless it’s something they are very fascinated with. As these children get closer to age 2, you can start to help them understand sharing. Simple games of taking and giving can work. Sometimes, these little guys are so cute when they say “no” that we tend to smile or laugh. As cute as they can be, it is more helpful to smile and say,“share,” while demonstrating how it works. Grabbing something from them, being forceful, or getting angry with them will only make them think sharing isn’t any fun, leading to problems later. Try to keep the encouragement positive.
This is when we really start to hear the frustrations of sharing. When playing with others, it is important that they learn to share as that kind of behavior will be important in life-long social situations. For some toddlers, sharing will be fun. But for others, they have no intention of sharing. Jane Brooks, author of The Process of Parenting (9th ed.) stated “as children get older, the most basic principle is that parents model the warm responses they want children to show to each other.” This most certainly applies to sharing! If you have a toddler that does not want to share, try to find something to share with them first. Or, if they are having difficulties sharing with a particular sibling or friend, you might give something to either child and ask that they share it or take turns. For this age, it’s best to keep the lecturing to a minimum – actions speak louder than words anyway. Here’s a scenario that demonstrates this.
“No – you can’t have it – it’s mine!” Catherine said, spinning away from her twin sister Samantha, holding the blue crayon up high. Samantha tried again, with both arms outstretched. “P-l-e-a-s-e, can I have a turn?” “NO!” shouted Catherine, turning her back on Samantha .
Nanny Sue noticed the situation. “Thank you, Samantha, for using kind words. Catherine – it sounds like you don’t want to share. I’m going to share some of my crayons with you. Here are two more crayons for you. Now do you think you might be able to share one of them with your sister?”
Catherine analyzed the 3 crayons that were now in her hand. She still didn’t want to share the blue one, but was okay not using the red one. “Here Sammy” said Catherine, putting the red crayon into her hand. But Samantha didn’t look too happy because she really wanted the blue one.
Nanny Sue to the rescue …… “Samantha, you still don’t look happy. Can you tell Catherine how you’re feeling?” Hearing this, Catherine didn’t wait for a response from Samantha. She said “I know what’s wrong….but I’m not sharing the blue one!” she retorted.
“Well, I would love to see you share and take turns, just like I shared with you. But I’m thinking the two of you will be able to come up with a plan,” Nanny Sue said. “Please let me know what you come up with – I’ll be anxious to hear your great solution!” And with that, Nanny Sue turned her attention to something else, while keeping an ear to the negotiating that followed.
By this age, sharing should already be a common practice (within reason, of course). For those children who still have difficulties sharing, analyze what may be causing their selfishness. Are they very sensitive? Are they going through a stressful situation? Are the adults in their life encouraging sharing in a positive manner? Sometimes children have had bad experiences with sharing. They shared, but no one would share with them. Or maybe they shared something and it was never returned.
School-aged children should be at a level where discussions with them can be more in-depth. If you approach the topic in a positive, non-threatening or non-punitive way, they may be able to reveal what the issue is. And even if they can’t quite verbalize a good reason, make sure your response honors their thoughts and feelings. You don’t want to say “oh, don’t worry about that” because they clearly are worried. You also don’t want to say “well, you’d better get used to it” because you don’t learn what the true issue is nor do you help them develop new strategies. If you can get to the root of the problem, you can better assist them with their hesitance to share. And, finally, although it’s ever-so tempting, you don’t want to say “because I told you so!”
Sharing is not always easy – even for adults. But the more we model sharing, the more we recognize the child for positive behavior (i.e. commenting on how you like seeing them share), and the more we tune into environmental, emotional, or social issues that may be influencing selfishness, then the better we can assist our children with sharing. Sharing with others helps build self-esteem, creates a positive atmosphere, and helps children learn that the world does not revolve around them …. All things that we need in order to be mature adults!
Debbie Farr, Ph.D. Debbie received her Ph.D. in family studies and human development, her master’s in counseling and her BA in psychology. She has worked in various capacities, serving children and families for over 30 years, but her passion is in helping parents be proactive rather than reactive. To that end, Debbie offers workshops, presentations, and trainings for parents as well as professionals, blending education with support and coaching. Debbie has worked as a director for a family resource center, worked in numerous schools in several parts of the country, and taught at the university level. Currently she is working with SitterCycle’s positive discipline strategies and is putting the finishing touches on her new company, Flourishing Families. She is also getting ready to launch an “Ask Dr. Debbie” column in a local newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.