Friday, September 4, 2015

The Deeper Lessons We Learn From Sharing

I don't know about you, but when I was growing up, we were taught that if you had a toy or item you were playing with and another kid wanted it, you relinquished it over to them so they could have a turn. I remember this pretty much sucked because usually I was enjoying playing with it tremendously and then had to lose that joy to hand it over. Then when I became a mother, I really had the belief that I HAD to teach my daughter to share no matter what. When you see sharing from a kid's point of view you realize that it's no wonder kids may resist sharing!

{Just imagine if as adults we were expected to take turns with our phones, cars or clothes! It's kind of ridiculous and funny when we think of it that way.}

BUT...

You also want to teach your kids that it's important to learn how to take turns, to have patience, and to have coping skills and tools to negotiate the whole art of toy and cool stuff management. We also want to teach our kids that we can't always get what we want when we want it.

Certainly the old-school thinking isn't enough to actually teach kids all of that because you're just teaching them that they HAVE to take turns by handing the toy or coveted item over to someone else.

So how can we teach sharing with empathy, coping skills, and the art of negotiation?

Well, at least in my house it's a combination of communication, natural consequences (with a little chat after to explain why and how it happened), and parent-guided mediation between kids.

But sometimes the towel gets thrown in...

And the kids do fight sometimes...or other times what we've practiced seems to come through and I get to witness the miracle of them negotiating and being empathetic as they decide how to share.

One thing that has REALLY made a huge difference is to make clear that some toys are not for everyone to use, with these special permission is needed. At first this was hard for me because of my internalized beliefs around sharing (e.g. that everyone can have turns with anything). So I had a bit of guilt around this when I initially was introduced to the idea that kids don't ALWAYS have to share. That it's OK to have extended turns, to have special items that require permission from the owner to touch or use.

But it makes sense.

And Dr. Laura explains it so well in Chapter 6 of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. She even has scripts and examples of how to teach kids effective sharing.

The other great thing about this chapter is that it has a list of simple but effective sharing guidelines that will help kids understand sharing and feel good about it. I won't list them all, but my favourite ones are

"In our family the person using something can decide how long their turn lasts. At the playground we take shorter turns so everyone gets a turn."

And

"With visitors, we put away toys that are hard for us to share. When visitors are here, we take short turns, so everyone can enjoy playing in our home."


So once I let go of that guilt and that expectation that I was supposed to have kids who readily handed things over, I was able to see things from my kiddos' perspective, and I got to heal that inner child part of me that never got a chance to learn that.

The key here is to realize that teaching about sharing is only the surface lesson. The deeper, more important lesson, is to teach kids to see another person's perspective (empathy) so that sharing actually becomes an act of empathy, not just social norms or expectations. When kids learn this deeper lesson of empathy, they actually are MORE willing to share something, even special items they treasure, because they can relate and empathize with the kid they're sharing with. This teaches them that happiness can come from receiving, but is multiplied when we also get the chance to give. But the MOST important lesson they learn is empathy itself. So many problems in people's lives have to do with the lack of empathy, the lack of skills in communication that stem from not having received empathy ourselves or of not knowing how to have empathy for others. The more empathy we can teach kids, the more peaceful and stronger their relationships will be.

And I love seeing this happening in my kids. They are (usually) so happy to share, even special toys, with each other and when their friends come over to play. In fact, they usually send their friends home with a toy!

Another important lesson I wanted to teach my kids was not to become, for lack of a better way to say it, pushovers. When you expect kids to just hand stuff over, perhaps the underlying lesson we are teaching them is that their needs and point of view may not matter as much as meeting the expected social norm.

{This is something that I am STILL working on personally. I still get that tightness in my throat when I want to say something but hold it in because I erroneously feel I will be failing as a person or not meeting social expectations.}

So I wanted them to know how to express what their needs are, to stand up and stand strong, and how to communicate and effectively negotiate taking turns. And how to establish healthy boundaries and say "No thanks" when needed. Because, yeah at this age, it's just about toys...but when they are older these are skills that are going to be extremely necessary and very useful to have.

We're working on all this. Just as we make great strides forward, we seem to start from scratch again because we have four kids at different stages of development. We move forward with the older ones, then the little ones begin their learning journey from square one. But it is super cool to see my two older ones help the little ones by example or by actually helping them negotiate and communicate, I have hope that in the end I'll look back at this phase of my life and be glad I did it this way!


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