Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Siblings - sharing

Ok, let's do the big one - sharing. I've written about sharing before, a long time ago it seems. In that post, I said that we don't force Ryan to share. That is still our approach.

There are definitely moments when we tell him to let his baby sister have a piece of the action - but these occasions usually involve him making space for his baby sister (say, on a seat or in a play tent). They don't involve him giving up things.

I'll start off by sharing what it is that we do - we take turns. And if Ryan is having a turn, he can have it for as long as he likes; same for babydoll. No snatching is allowed. 

A simple example is nursing. When I've got babydoll on the latch, Ryan may want a go too. On days when I don't feel like tandem latching, I tell him that babydoll is having her turn and he can have a turn when she's done. It's not that babydoll is being selfish. She's just busy.

Of course the issue most often arises when the two are playing with their toys. Ryan usually lays out all his beloved letters of the alphabet, in whatever pattern and order he has imagined, and babydoll will grab a handful of them. It sends Ryan into battle mode. Would you tell Ryan, "Share with your sister!" ? We don't. Ryan was busy playing and executing a grand masterplan. He has a right to uninterrupted play and we should all respect that. Keeping a toy for himself is not necessarily a sign of selfishness - it is simply a sign that he's not done with it yet.

Another common situation is when Ryan is playing with a few of the same toys - he may have five small cars. It's tempting to tell him, give Rachel one, but it would not be respecting his vision and his right to play. To him, he needs five cars. Who am I to tell him otherwise?

Does it work? Absolutely. I do have to remind Ryan but he gets it. The first few times I engaged him in a bit of a dialogue - I would say something like, "I know you want to play with it. Rachel has it now and she's still playing with it. You can play with it when she's done. You can have your turn when she's done."

If he's upset, I will tell him, "I know you're upset. It's hard to wait." And perhaps I'll say, "I'll hug you while you wait."

The point is to acknowledge how he feels and to reassure him that he will get to play with it.

Now that we've been through this a few times, I can use shorthand and simply remind him, "Wait for your turn." He gets it.

Importantly also, when it's time for his turn, I will remind him, "It's your turn now." He may be playing with something else or doing something else but I want him to know that I care enough about him to protect his turn. This works both ways - if he is done with a turn and babydoll is up for hers, I will ask Ryan, "It's Rachel's turn now, can you pass it to her?" And he always does it willingly and happily.

Babydoll is coming to 17 months now, and she is not ready to share or even take turns. If she wants something, she wants it now. We go through the motions with her, not because we expect her to learn to take turns, but to show Ryan that it cuts both ways. So if Ryan is having a go at something and babydoll comes along to steal some of the action, we will remove her from the scene and say, "Ryan is still having his turn, you have to wait".

This way, we give Ryan that sense of control and empowerment, and help him to exercise positive assertiveness. I want him to experience ownership over what he's doing, because I believe that sharing will come naturally from there (as I've written before). If a child has never experienced the security of owning something, I believe that he will always be selfish.

Following that, we want Ryan to be able to stand up for himself and not be bullied. We want him to be able to defend himself against another child who snatches his stuff from him. We want him to know that it's ok not to share things that are precious to you and it's ok not to share things with people you don't trust. And it's ok to want to continue building your masterpiece instead of giving up your blocks on demand. It's ok to say no. Nicely, of course.

After all, I'm not going to share everything I have with anyone who makes a demand on me. Why should I expect my four year old to do that?

So we demonstrate to him that he can say to his sister, "I'm not done with this yet." or something like that. On many occasions, when the two of them are in a tug-of-war over something, he will ask me, "What do I say, Mama?" And I'll suggest something for him. It may or may not work on its own - sometimes it does stop the girl because she gets a little distracted - but after he says it, I make sure that the issue is resolved, usually by removing the sister. So he knows that there is power in using his words.

There are times when another child may come up to him and ask him nicely, can I play with that? The child usually expects to be able to get Ryan to give up his toy just because he/she asked nicely. To me, the same principle applies, whether the demand is made nicely or not. If Ryan is not done yet, then he should be able to continue until he's all done. Asking nicely is about having manners and having manners has nothing to do with other people or whether they accede to your request.

And yes, it works both ways. If Ryan wants something, he may have to wait for his turn, even if he asked nicely.

So what happens when toys get snatched? And yes, this happens all the time. Like I said, Rachel is not developmentally ready to take turns or share so she snatches all the time. Ryan snatches too, when his emotions are high.

What I do when Ryan snatches something from babydoll is to point out to him, "Rachel was playing with that, she's not done with it. You have to wait your turn, no snatching. Please give it back to her." If he doesn't make a move, I will ask him, "Do you need me to help you?" or I'll reassure him, "You can play with it when Rachel is done."

What I do when babydoll snatches something out of Ryan's hands is take the item back from her and give it back to Ryan. I say something like, "No snatching. Ryan is not done with it yet. Ryan will let you know when he's done with it and then you can have your turn." All this is said for Ryan's benefit, of course.

And yes, I mentioned above that a turn can last forever. We never impose limits on turn taking, because that is inconsistent with fostering a sense of empowerment. It is also inconsistent with our approach of respecting the right to play and the right of ownership.

So turns can last forever. Of course, they never last that long. There are times when play has to be interrupted of course, usually when we are leaving to go out. That is usually fine with Ryan - the prospect of going out is more exciting. There were a few occasions when he insisted on finishing what he was doing and yes, we waited for him. It usually does not take long and a little understanding on our part makes everything all the more smooth and happy.

The key is to apply the approach consistently. I know there are times when it's difficult, like when on playdates. It's okay, one encounter with a playmate will not undo the good work done in the home. I've had many occasions when Ryan would return from a playdate and be a little "off" for a few days, but he always settles down into our family routines again. We just have to keep things consistent at home.

Last note - as mentioned above, although we don't tell Ryan to share by giving up his things, we do tell him to share when it comes to things like making space for his sister on a seat or sharing food. He is always fine with this. So this is the only exception.

Ok, that's all. I hope that this provides some food for thought and some new perspectives.


Anonymous said...

What about in a group context of a few children or toddlers? Would you apply the same approach?

Pinkie Pirate said...

Hi Anonymous, in a group of children, I would apply the same approach to my children if I see the need. If the other parents insist on telling their children to share, I don't say anything. Having said that, I normally don't intervene when the children play - I trust them to resolve their conflicts on their own. So if my son is fighting over a toy with another child, I normally wait and see what happens. One time, he and his good friend were both pulling on a cardboard shark. I didn't say anything, his friend's mum didn't say anything. The shark broke into two. The two children immediately said, "Uh oh! We have to fix it!" and went off in search of glue and sticky tape. Absolutely wonderful. If you have a specific scenario in mind, I'd be happy to give you my thoughts.

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