My daughter is just coming up on two. And I’m excited. I’m excited for all the important and complex concepts she’ll be learning and I’m excited to be right by her side, supporting her through them.

I’m anticipating that the coming months will be filled with all sorts of challenging lessons, both for her and me, and I’d like to chronicle as many of them as I can. Although we’re just getting started it’ll be easiest to tackle these topics in bite-sized chunks, not least because they can get very complicated very fast (precisely why they’re so difficult for toddlers).

So let’s start today. With a couple of play dates this week the concept of sharing has landed squarely on my daughter’s radar…and therefore mine. Here’s what I saw today and here’s how I explain it…

 

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What it looks like: When E is approached by others while playing with something of value (perhaps a newly acquired toy) she responds by shouting No! and swatting at the intruder.

Mistaken for: Being rude, mean or selfish. Not being willing to share.

Why she does this: A lot of toddler ‘behaviours’ are rooted in a feeling of not being in control and this is no exception. E has managed to snag a toy that she loves and, since toddlers live entirely in the moment, that toy is everything to her right now. Enter other child. The other child wants to use the toy (may in fact be the owner of the toy) and he comes to make his claim. E senses his presence and immediately starts to panic. She has no idea how to control this. Although her verbal skills are well developed, the best way she knows of controlling the situation is through her volume, her arms and using the word No! Is it effective? You bet!

How to support: Sharing is an immensely complex social interaction and it takes years for children to really master it. What is routinely taught as ‘sharing’ is actually ‘you-have-to-give-your-toys-to-someone-else-whenever-an-adult-say-so-ing.’ Not necessarily a bad skill to have on hand, but not something she’ll be able to do independently.

I’ve been reading lots on sharing. I can tell you all sorts of tips I’ve learned but I don’t have a one-size-fits all answer. A lot seems to depend on how much you as an adult are willing to break social conventions, perhaps even offend others, for the sake of respecting your child’s developmental journey.

But here are a few things I tried today:

Acknowledge her feelingsYou don’t want M to take away the toys. I can see that you’re upset.

Explain the realityThat toy belongs to C and she needs it right now to make her feel safe. OR M is not trying to take the toys. He’s just watching you play. Make sure that your tone is reassuring and calm – don’t make her feel stupid for misunderstanding.

Confirm that you will keep her and others safeI won’t let you hit M. Only say this if you know you can follow through.

Model a socially appropriate responseJust say ‘No thank you, M’. What is appropriate will depend on the child’s developmental stage, but try to keep it simple.

If it’s too much, get her out of thereI can see that you’re having a really hard time sharing today. Thank you for giving it a go. It’s time to try something else now. Then provide her with an appropriate alternative or remove her from the situation altogether.

I really haven’t figured out how to convince E that her current method (shouting and swatting), although extremely effective, should be exchanged for mine (a calm and kind, No thank you). If you have any suggestions to offer I’m all ears!

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