Sharing hurts

The following scenario is an example on how to handle conflict situations if your child does not wants to share.

The scenario: Paul likes to play with Sherman’s favorite red fire truck. Sherman snatches the car out of his hands. At the same time he grabs with his other hand everything else around him. Paul has no right to touch any of his toys. Mom shouts: You must give him something to play with or otherwise he will not visit you again.

(I have to admit, I have done the exact same thing.)

First problem is you are blackmailing you child, second your child is not yet old enough to understand the consequences. Never the less it is correct to intervene. As verbal communications at this age are still limited, as a parent you are committed to help out.

Example: Paul, why don’t you ask Sherman what toy you may have?

The possibility that Sherman lets Paul have one toy is relatively high even if it is just the most uninteresting one of all. If he accomplished that first step it will make it easier for him to give up on the red fire truck 10 minutes later.

If Sherman rejects to give up even one single toy you have the chance to say: Sherman you don’t want to share a toy? – Mmh, this is silly, sorry Paul but all the toys belong to Sherman. I would like to give you some but those are not mine.

It is a way for you slow down the conflict and Sherman learns to understand that he is accepted and he has control over (the situation) his toys. Than you can try again: “Look Sherman, maybe Paul can play with the police car”?

If that does not help take Paul aside and let him play with things they don’t belong to Sherman (keys, pencil and paper etc. I won’t take long and Sherman is ready to give up on his rebellious stance because the new game is much too interesting to not join in.

How do children play and how do they dispute?

Kids need idols and playmates to become socially competent. We need the Idols for orientation to learn how to do things ideally and we need the playmates to train with them the newly learned. Fighting, arguing and disputes are training and not a waste of time even if parents think it is.

Parallel games

Children need playmates. Even as little as 3 to 4 month old babies search the contact to other kids. They observe and learn. In the crawling stage they move closer and sit next to others so they can touch which often is a little rough.  About a year old they start to imitate each other and start to offer toys to the other kids. It appears that the kids play parallel but if you watch closely you can tell the other baby reacts, only that it is still time-delayed. It frustrates a lot if your partner has moved on and plays something else while you just understood what he wanted. That situation can lead to a tantrum or hissy fits. The parallel play is a way to try to contact other kids and get their attention.  At the age of 2 it is that kids are capable of coordinating their interests with the one of their playmate.

Play together

Around the second birthday children start to play meaningful together. They learn to agree on toys, games and can animate each other to continue and maintain a game for a longer time. They understand roll playing and they can agree to different characters. A lot of times they need the support and guidance of older kids or of their moms. For example: She took my book away! How to react if Sam takes Ken and puts him in the bath tub while Dorothy was changing his close? Most important…at first stay out of it and observe! It is still time to act if you see that the kids have no way to agree. It is most important not to solve the conflict. Helping with suggestions goes a long way: “Why don’t you sit together and look at the book? Ken needs to put his swimming trunks on before he can go to the pool!”  By playing with kids of the same age they learn to stand their ground, evaluate themselves and others. Playing they also lean to compromise and to cooperate with each other. They are laying the foundation for characteristics such as consideration, helpfulness/cooperativeness and compassion.

Trouble Spot: Property

A toddlers fight is mainly interpreted as a conflict of possession. Investigating scientists discovered that only about a third of those conflicts are based on possession. By the way a behavior that starts at the age of about 22 month.

Trouble Spot: Interruption

Example: Marcus is totally absorbed and fascinated by the law of physics that whenever he puts the ball on the ramp it rolls down by itself. Here comes Julian and almost immediately they fight. It is good if you had watched from the beginning how it happened. Now you can be impartial and instead of: Give that ball back to Marcus… you can say:  First it is Marcus turn and then yours.  “Marcus, would you please let Julian try it too”? It is important that kids are not disturbed when experimenting new things but an input form the other child can enrich the game.

Trouble Spot: Curiosity

Scientists have researched that about 20% of the children’s conflicts are produced by curiosity of an item someone is playing with.  On the contrary to “this is mine” curiosity is a learn process. Example: Sandra is sitting in the sand box filling her molds. She has pick out butterfly molds and has a considerable amount filled. Sofia watches her for a while and then comes over. She would like to try out if she can fill them too and maybe she has a different, more efficient way of doing it. Or maybe she knows how to turn them without losing too much sand?  The fight breaks out! Now it is you as a parent who has to help. First you have to slow down the conflict by showing that you understand, than you mediate. “I know you like to try it too, let’s wait together till Sandra has finished, or” Sandra, do you think one of you can fill and the other one turns the mold around”?

Regardless what the motive of the conflict is, in most cases the subject of it is an item. Items are considered learning objects. That makes sharing so difficult and it does not matter if the item is a toy or a pot and a wooden spoon.

Golden Rules For Play Dates

Let us start with some reflections to make this play party a nerve saving and hopefully a tear free experience.

The preparation! Hide the toys you know are your child’s favorites. For instants the cuddle bear he/she sleeps with or the new red truck you know he would never like to share. This way you avoid putting your child in the situation to have to give up on something he would never ever do.

What is the best time? Kids in a happy and relaxed mood fight less. Who had a good night sleep or a nap is less grouchy and whiny. So the best time depending on the age would be in the morning after breakfast and before the energy level at lunch goes down. A good time is also after the nap in the early afternoon.

How long should it last? Don’t try a marathon. Children of the age of 2 to 3 have a play tolerance of about an hour maximum 90 minutes smaller children respectively less. No matter what, parents are always there as a referee.

How many kids shall I invite? In the beginning you should limit the invite to just one child especially if they have to play inside. To ask your child  to pay attention to more than one kid is too much for children at the age of 3 or under.

Sources of distraction! TV, computer or radio are no background entertainment. Please shut them off because it will distract and overwork the children concentration. Same applies to cd stories.  Kids playing with others are busy and have enough stimulation trying to concentrate on the action of the other one.

Choosing the games! Let the children choose the games. But make clear that there has to be a decision on what and how many toys otherwise you run the risk that all the toys will be dragged out. If you see that for example the ball, the puzzle or the Duplo blocks become rather unattractive don’t offer new game immediately. It is important that you give fresh impulses like: “You could build a garage, mix the puzzle again or let the ball touch the floor before catching. Sometimes it is easier to promote cooperation through a variation of the known, rather than of new toys.

The territory! If you plan on having the play date in your child’s room than you put yourself up for conflict. A neutral territory like the family room or the kitchen if big enough is the best choice. It is easier to compromise in “nobody’s land”.

The supervisor! Stay close, children need the help of adults to learn how to act and react in case of a conflict.  Don’t expect that at your first play party your kids will play all by themselves. You are the referee: “Samantha took my doll? Ok I understand it is yours maybe we can find another one Samantha likes and we can exchange?”