Consider the following two sharing scenarios;
1. A child is playing with a toy. Another child sees and wants the toy too. An adult intervenes, saying to the first child, “Billy, you can have a turn for two minutes and then we will let Abbie have a turn.” The adults waits with the children and after two minutes oversees the transaction of the toy from one child to the other. She then verbally praises Billy for his good sharing.
2. A child is playing with a toy. Another child sees and wants the toy too. An adult intervenes, saying to the second child, “Abbie, when Billy is done playing with the xx, you can have a turn.”
She then turns to Billy and says, “Billy, when you’re done could you please let Abbie know so that she can have a turn.”
The adult then helps to distract Abbie to another activity nearby while she waits.
Shortly after Billy passes the toy to Abbie and the adult notices and positively reinforces his generous behaviour by saying, “Thank you Billy for remembering that Abbie was waiting for a turn and passing the toy to her.”
Which of these scenarios is more effective in developing a child’s intrinsic sharing behaviour? Which would have the most satisfactory outcome for Billy who first had ownership of the toy? Why? What lessons is each child learning from each scenario?
It is unreasonable to think that children younger than four or five years of age have the social skills necessary to share independently and so it is natural that as adults we support young children in their playful interactions. However how we choose to intervene has influence beyond a few minutes of conflict or upset in the here and now. It is good to remind ourselves that simple, subtle changes in our words and actions encourage the development of longer term, self-motivated behaviours for our child.
A useful resource for parents wanting to help their children develop positive, intrinsically motivated behaviours is Parenting With Positive Guidance: Tools for Building Discipline from the Inside Out, an e-book by Amanda Morgan (this is an affiliate link).
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