Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sharing—A Teachable Moment for Toddlers

Since the day her brother arrived home from the hospital in her parents’ arms, sharing has been a very difficult concept for my now five-year-old granddaughter to grasp. Sophia has struggled when he receives attention from adults and become hysterical if he touches anything that belongs to her. And when it happens—while visiting friends, at family events, in the waiting room or at the grocery store—her shrill screams wrack the nerves of anyone in earshot, not to mention the extreme anxiety it causes her embarrassed mother and father.
Anyone who knows a toddler knows that fun time can very quickly dissolve in an explosion of tears and temper tantrums when sharing is required. My son and daughter-in-law, like many other wonderful parents, may have missed an opportunity to teach the concept of sharing when they resorted to managing or even separating the children during these situations.   

One day while I was babysitting the grandkids, a major tantrum erupted after Sophia’s brother started playing with her doll carriage. I knew there had to be a better way through this, so instead of getting upset with my granddaughter for her seemingly outrageous behavior, I simply felt a great deal of compassion for how emotional and distraught she was. I wrapped my arms around her and asked her how she was feeling at that moment.

She stopped crying and looked a little puzzled, trying to figure out what I meant and how she was feeling.

“I bet you don’t feel good right now, do you?” I asked. She shook her head, no. Then I suggested she think about something nice, such as a time when she did something nice for someone or when she shared a toy with a friend. A big smile spread over her face. 

I explained that she actually has a choice about how she wants to feel. She could continue to feel bad when she makes a decision not to share or she could feel good when she shares. It was her choice. She became so excited with this new possibility she asked me to tell her mother and father about it when they came home. And she gave her little brother the carriage.

Now, as you might guess, this was not the last of these episodes. Sophia occasionally forgets that she has a choice, though she is always very willing to be reminded. Like anyone learning a new behavior, sometimes all it takes to change is a little practice and a gentle nudge from someone who is invested in helping us. 

Even at the tender age of five, Sophia knew the difference between feelings she liked and those she did not. Now when she is having a “moment,” I just ask her how she wants to feel and remind her that she has a choice. She clearly enjoys being in charge of this part of her life. And while her three-year-old brother does not understand the concept, he responds positively to his sister’s newfound willingness to share. He no longer has to struggle with her and usually just hands back whatever object is in dispute.

As adults, we have the same capability to make changes in our own behaviors.  We can choose to feel jealousy and anger, or we can choose kindness.  By teaching and role modeling positive behaviors to our children we can instill skills that will help them for a life time.

Can you imagine how much more peace there will be in their futures—and in the world?

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