Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Jason was busy with the trains, and Tyler wanted one of the trains Jason was using.  In typical toddler fashion, Tyler simply picked it up and walked away. It makes sense...... from a toddler world view.  Naturally, Jason was upset and thus began one of several minor train-table-skirmishes that would occur that day at preschool.  I love the trains!  Toddlers feel such intense love and ownership for them that this one area of the classroom prompts many opportunities for social learning every day.

I could have responded by solving the problem for the boys.  I could have responded by ignoring the situation entirely.  Instead I tried using what seems to be the best way to help toddlers learn to get along with one another.

I handed Tyler another (very attractive) train while gently removing "Jason's" train from his grasp. While handing the disputed train back to Jason, I quietly explained that Jason was using it right now but that he would share it with Tyler when he was all done.  Then I turned to Jason, and said, "Tyler would like a turn with that train when you're all done, but you can play until you're ready to share. "Please note that I just had to ignore a little bit of fussing during the few seconds it took to accomplish this.

Then I immediately turned my attention to Tyler, and said, "What would you like to play with while you're waiting for your turn?" Then I helped him find some other, very exciting trains and other toys.  I gave him my full attention for a minute or two while  he got through the discomfort of not getting THE train right now, and soon he was playing happily.

At about that time,  Jason magnanimously handed the magical, much-wanted train to Tyler, in a grand gesture of sharing, saying, "Here."  I didn't make a big production of this, but simply said (so that both boys heard me,) "Thank you for sharing, Jason."

Joy, pride, and deep learning were the result.  Both boys felt good about themselves, and moved a little further in their journey of social learning.  They learned a little bit about how to imagine how someone else was feeling, they learned a little bit about waiting, and they learned that it can feel good to share with someone.

The Magic Words are "when you're all done,"and "when you're ready." A child who is using something needs to feel respected, and should not be rushed to finish his play just because another child is interested in using the same toy. It's important to make sure the child feels ownership of the sharing process, and at least temporary ownership of the toy in question. No one can share something they don't feel is theirs to share.

Another key part of the formula is my giving quality attention to the person who is waiting.  "What would you like to do while you're waiting for your turn?" are magic words as well. It's not my intention to distract Tyler, so that he will forget about the train that Jason has.  I don't believe in distracting toddlers, although sometimes that can be effective. I prefer to allow them to feel difficult emotions, and to be right there with them while they are feeling them. I think that's how emotional growth happens.

Learning to share is gradual. It's really not easy for any of us, at any age.  Yet we often expect toddlers to  be able to do it beautifully, even though they have just jumped onto this long, long learning curve.   All children will share when they are ready.

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