I am the fourth in a brood of seven, and was youngest for about three years. One of my fondest childhood memories was when my dad would divide a NESTLÈ Crunch bar equally into 4 pieces after dinner for our dessert, as there were still four of us to share the entire bar, or the younger ones were not allowed to eat chocolates yet.
Somehow, growing up, all seven of us developed the mentality that if we have fair shares of goodies⏤be it food, TV time or playing with our toys⏤chances are, we would imbibe the virtue of solid bonding and concern for one another.
Now with three little girls of my own, I realize how important it is to instill in them the virtue of sharing and teaching them how to get along so that they would form a friendship as siblings, as well as bond with other kids they meet. Here are some lessons we as parents can teach our young children about sharing.
Don’t force your children to share. Forcing them through nagging and bribery may compel them to give something up to share, but it won’t teach them to learn the value of why they need to share. On the contrary, it might only bring about resentment in them by making them feel that they have no control over their own belongings.
Give them opportunities to interact in their environment in productive ways. Dr. Maria Montessori observes that a child “seeks for the things that can nourish his spirit, and he finds his nourishment in activity”. If he is surrounded by mindless toys, he becomes attracted simply to ‘things’ and desires to possess them. Give them activities and toys that encourage them to create and discover.
Take turns. Teach them to to wait and take turns when they want to use or play with things used by others. Instill in them the value of patience and giving way for those who came first. Either they wait for their turn, or look for something else that serves the same purpose in the meantime. The practice of taking turns is not innately ingrained in children. So this must be acknowledged and affirmed constantly until they take it to heart. Remind them by saying things like, “It’s your turn now, but after you’re done, let your sister play with it, okay?” or “Your sister is still using it. You may use it after she’s done”. Even simple cues of saying “your turn” or “ate’s turn” will help them understand fair exchange with less, and eventually remove the drama of being possessive of toys.
Acknowledge & affirm. Point out to them the positive outcome of their taking turns when sharing. “See how happy she was when you gave it to her when it was her turn to use it. You made her happy”.
Encourage sibling love. We parents tend to forget that we aren’t the sole source of love and comfort for our children. With siblings as their first friends, being mindful of your kids’ friendship with each other can help in the forming of friendships outside the family circle.
Encourage your kids to nurture one another and cheer each other on. Create special sibling time so that they can be friends as well as siblings. Set an example. How is your relationship with their aunts and uncles? Your history with your siblings and ties with them is also a big factor in teaching them how to get along. Even as couples, in little things, show how you as parents take turns, share, and acknowledge each other. In doing so in front of your children⏤may it be sharing food, taking turns to use a pen, or even watching a preferred show⏤will foster good social skills from toddlerhood onwards.
Talk to them about what makes a great friend. Describe different characteristics of friends with your child⏤how friends should be trustworthy, that they are people they can count on, how they like spending time with each other, cheer you up when one is sad. This is a good way to gauge what your kids think a good friend is, what qualities they should look for in a friend, and for you to direct them to the right characteristics they should have as a friend.
Role play tough friendship situations. Talk about your child’s experiences. Collect ideas from situations they’ve encountered and you can make it into a game. You can use index cards with the different scenarios on it to practice dealing with disappointment and disagreeing appropriately. Find literature about friendships. Encourage them to watch shows that teach about friendship, like Sesame Street, VeggieTales and Scooby-doo among others. Read and watch these with your kids so that you can explain to them the situations that the characters in the stories find themselves in.
Teach them how to express themselves graciously. One way of helping kids make friends easily is to teach them how to ask for what they need and want without being rude or demanding. Teach them to express how they feel and what they need politely, instead of raising their voice, or calling the other person names.
Instead of saying, “You’re bad!” say, “I don’t like it when you grabbed the toy from me while I was still playing with it.” Or instead of scolding them with, “You’re so selfish!”, say, “I need to use that, too. Are you done with it already?”
Help repair rifts. Aside from sharing, apologizing properly is another friendship skill that children need to learn. Saying sorry for the sake of just saying it is unacceptable, and might worsen the rift instead of repair it because it might cause the child to hold a grudge.
Give them some time to cool down before apologizing so that they can think about what happened and understand what they did wrong. This is a way for them to learn how to handle conflict. Make sure not to turn apologies into public shaming or else they will resist. Show that you know how to apologize, too. Modeling how to apologize graciously to them and others gives them an idea of how to do it properly and helps them understand that it is not a punishment.
Observe and help facilitate your kids’ social interactions. Whether it’s your children’s first day in school or playing at the playground, observe how your kids interact with the people around them. Facilitate your kids’ bonding with their teacher, especially if you notice that they don’t seem to feel good about school. Inform the teacher of your observations and ask her to give them a bit of extra attention. Also, ask your child or the teacher about the kids he or she hang out with. Facilitate & encourage that friendship by inviting them to a play date, and even get to know the kids’ parents, if possible.
It all starts at home. Whether you have a one child or six, you as the parent need to instill in them the proper mindset, model the right behavior, and give ample love and support in your home to equip them as they go out and meet their peers and other people, make connections, and build friendships.
It can be quite a challenge, especially when it entails being mindful of our own temper, words, and behavior as well. (Mitzi Barrios)