Mine! Teach your little one how to share
Sharing your stuff is incredibly difficult when you’re only three years old. Here’s how you can intervene when your sprog wants to hold onto everything and just refuses to let go
IMAGINE HOW AMAZING it would be to overhear your three-year-old daughter telling her best friend: “Of course, feel free to play with my favourite doll.”
Unfortunately, chances are the opposite will happen. Your child will spot her friend putting the doll to sleep and shout at the top of her voice: “Give her to me! She’s mine!” Before long all hell will break loose and there will be tears about who’s allowed to play with the dolly. And after the adults have intervened and brokered the peace, the moms will each stand back and wonder, quietly dismayed: “Where did I go wrong to end up with a child who just refuses to share?”
Relax. Sharing doesn’t come naturally to any three-year-old. The secret is to be a positive role model and use those “it’s mine” battles to help your child resolve conflict.
WHY ARE CHILDREN SO UNCHARITABLE?
At the age of two your child enters a new psychological phase: autonomy. She gets a sense of control and realises she can do certain things herself. She starts developing an independent will and wants to be ever more self-reliant. It’s the first phase of the “it’s mine” stage.
Toddlers between two and four are also naturally self-centred, says Liesel Vorster, an educational psychologist from Worcester in the Western Cape.
Their world revolves around themselves, and they only have one point of view – their own. They’re so focused on their own needs and immediately satisfying them that charitableness just isn’t a priority. In fact, their little brains aren’t yet capable of thinking of others in that way. So they’ll easily grab a toy and say “mine”.
“They won’t ask nicely, no matter how hard we try to teach them,” Liesel says.
At this age, children don’t have the ability to share. It’s not that they’re malevolent, wilful or deliberate – this attitude is a normal developmental phenomenon at this age.
Fortunately, self-centredness subsides by five to six years of age, and with that the “it’s mine” behaviour also decreases, Liesel assures parents.
WHAT TO EXPECT, AND HOW TO REACT
Don’t try too hard to discipline a twoyear-old child because she doesn’t want to share. Try to remember that it’s a normal developmental phase and part of how her little noggin works at this age.
Ignoring her uncharitable behaviour now doesn’t mean you’re raising a selfish child, but rather that you’re helping her develop her own will.
You should actually be thankful for this stage, says Hester Rabe, a clinical psychologist from Worcester in the Western Cape. “It confirms that your little one’s consciousness of her own person is well on track. These are the first steps to a good self-image.”
Children become more independent from around three, and the challenge arises when they are exposed to other children. Your child will then learn for the first time that she can only enjoy her independence within certain boundaries.
“A roomful of toys and other personal belongings now becomes a training ground, and she learns how much initiative is allowed and about boundaries and how far you need to take them into account where others are involved,” says Hester. “After a long, hard process of give and take, she finally learns a new skill: sharing.”
That’s why we should actually see this selfish behaviour as an opportunity and be patient while we teach our children good manners.
Also act positively yourself. Rather than saying, “No-one will want to play with you when you do that, because you make others sad if you don’t want to share,” you can say something positive, such as, “Your friend will really enjoy a chance to join in your game.”