Living by a toddler’s rules

Ruth Griffiths

Toddlers have “rules” for living:

      •     If I want it, it’s mine.

      •     If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.

      •     If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.

      •     If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine …

We can laugh at this list of “rules” for toddlers, but it says something about our belief in the importance of sharing.

It’s heart-warming to see a tiny person spontaneously giving a food treat or a toy to a playmate. But we are horrified when they snatch it back, yelling, “Mine!”

We like it when children play together and share things. But most toddlers find it hard to share things. We might call a child “greedy” or “selfish” and insist that he or she share an item with a playmate. Refusing to share is often treated as a crime in the eyes of adults. We want children to be generous, kind and co-operative, so we demand that they share.

Demanding that children share ignores their feelings and does not truly teach them to share. The irony of sharing is that when children know they are not required to share, they are most likely to do so!

Sometimes sharing should wait. It is important to learn to wait to use the item that someone else is using. Learning to wait and taking turns are important skills for getting along with other people.

Sharing is giving up something because you choose to, not because you are told to or forced to. Sometimes the toddler just isn’t done with it yet.  Holding onto an item, and not sharing it immediately, may be an important step in learning to respect yourself. The child learns “I am worthy” of having or using this item. Forcing the child to give up a toy may only make him more possessive of it in the future.

We can also foster sharing by praising it. Give the child an opportunity to share positively. Allow her to pass around a bowl of treats. Play family games that require simple, short-term sharing of an item.

It has been said that sharing is “the religion of the sandbox set.” We realize that sharing is a very important skill. Sharing helps us get along smoothly and happily in groups. Sharing helps us live together peacefully in loving families.