20 May 2021
I have definitely fallen into the trap of forcing my tiny tots to share – it is a natural response from us, as their caregivers (and moral compasses), to ensure that nobody feels left out or upset and that the play environment feels fair and kind.
What is Forced Sharing?
Tiny tots specifically have a habit of grabbing, taking, or screaming when they don’t get what they want – patience is not their strong suit, and they are ego-centric, which means they come first, and they can only see things from their perspective. This means, they don’t actually have the capacity to share at a young age, they are not malicious, spiteful, or mean, they just cannot relate to something outside of their own little world, in other words – “I want it. Therefore, I will take it.” Or “I want it. Therefore, give it to me. Now”. They also have no concept of time and are single-minded, so will probably fixate on what they want, unable to move on, or repeatedly ask for it until they get it.
We naturally want to encourage them to share, because we want to see kind, empathetic, generous traits in their interactions. That they think of others, “sharing is caring” and that they will learn compassion from sharing. So we tend to demand them to share, request they hand over a toy, or sometimes when we are at breaking point, grab it from them, and give it to the friend who is crying or desperate for the toy. Because we naturally want kind kids, and we want them to want to share.
Forcing sharing doesn’t instill that, unfortunately.
Why Forced Sharing Isn’t Actually Helpful
They associate this kind of forced sharing with meaning that they don’t have independence over how they choose to spend their time engaged in their own play. That we are essentially grabbing/taking from them, to give to someone else, and they have no idea why it was taken from them in the middle of their play. That we don’t respect their play, their game, or their use, and the importance of the toy in that.
Imagine someone told you, out of the blue, to hand over your book in the middle of an exciting chapter you were really involved in reading? It would feel both totally random as to why someone would want what you are so obviously enjoying, and really unfair. Would you learn anything from that, besides the fact that you have no choice but to hand it over, even though you are not finished reading it?
We need to model kindness, empathy, sharing and respect, we do this by scaffolding their decisions and behaviour – being their co-regulator, the little voice in their head telling them what is right and wrong, showing them when we are kind and share it feels good to make someone else happy. This might be so obvious to us and seem so socially acceptable in how to behave, but remember they are still learning all of these soft skills. They heavily rely on us for guidance, and model what they see. Empathy is a learnt skill and is only achievable when they learn to think outside of their little world through interactions, and experience. That is where we fit in.
What Do we Do Then?
We instill the idea of sharing, respectfully, and with the necessary dialogue:
1. Instill The Idea of Taking Turns: “Will you give him the truck when you are finished playing with it, please?” or “Would it be ok if he played next to you, and helped you fill-up the truck?”
2. Instill The Idea of Patience: “Why don’t you play with this truck, until it is your turn to play” or “It can be tough to wait for the truck – I know how much you want it, should we play with this truck instead or build some blocks together until he is finished playing with it?”
3. Reinforce with Praise For Both Parties: “You shared the truck even though that was tough for you. Thank you for being so kind.” “You waited for your turn with the truck, well done for being so patient and understanding.”
Ideally, this would work perfectly and would be a smooth interaction… in reality, it probably won’t! In the beginning weeks of school starting, my tiny tots exploded when they didn’t get what they wanted, being calm and present during these meltdowns is another article, but consistently showing them with patience they will get the truck when the other friend is ready, instills an on-going idea of the concept of sharing. They too learn, how it feels when someone takes a really long time with a toy, and you are desperately waiting for it.
They also learn that we respect their play, their independence and that the toy always comes back for another turn when the friend is finished playing with it.
Often, a bonus outcome is the realisation that they can keep the toy by playing with it together – sharing roles, and explaining their play, inviting the friend to rather join them – naturally leading to a new phase of collaborative play.
I hope this helps!
Remember these are just my own thoughts, learnings, understanding and practical tips I apply and feel works best, everyone is different, and you need to do what is right for you and your tot.
Teacher Amy! x
Amy Stevens, more affectionately known as Teacher Amy is a qualified foundation phase and early childhood development teacher. Her mornings involve running a private play school in Sea Point, Cape Town and in the afternoons she offers in-home learning support sessions for children between the ages of 1.5 to 8 years old.