Kids need to learn to share. They have to share precious resources with siblings. They have to share with others at school. Sharing is a mainstay topic on Sesame Street. Parents pull their hair out because their kids “can’t” share. Sharing is caring, a way of life.
Or is it?
Merriam-Webster says “sharing” is 1) a portion belonging to, due to, or contributed by an individual or group and 2) one’s full or fair portion
Jen Newton says sharing is having enough for everyone including yourself (e.g. birthday treats) and TAKING TURNS is giving “one’s full or fair portion” to another with nothing for yourself. Sharing is altruistic and happy, it feels good. Turn taking means waiting, giving up what you had and probably want, for someone else’s happiness. They are not the same thing but we do tend to confuse them when talking with and about kids.
Adults rarely, if ever, give up treasured items for nothing in return. Think about it. When was the last time you gave up something you wanted, really really wanted? We ask kids to do this all the time. We tell them they aren’t kind or good friends to others if they do not want to give what they have to someone else.
Adults have to take turns. We actually do a lot of turn taking in our grown up life; stop lights, grocery store check out lines, drive through ATMs (do people still do that?). Many adults do not do this well, patiently, with kindness. Despite our expectations for kids to willingly and readily “share,” we rarely model this giving-up-of-a-preferred-object-for-nothing-in-return version of caring in our own lives.
So why do we expect kids to do it? And do it willingly and happily?
The truth is, kids do share willingly and happily. They just don’t take turns as easily. Ever curse under your breath at the car in front of you who hasn’t moved despite the light turning green? Yes? Then you don’t take turns easily either!
Teaching children to take turns involves strategy.
- Start with making turns brief so children do not have to wait long to be rewarded for patiently waiting.
- Try a timer, the duration of a song, five pushes on a swing, something tangible even young children can count, or hear, or see.
- Provide SPECIFIC feedback for waiting patiently. “I know how hard it is to wait and you are doing so very patiently.”
- Validate that waiting is hard. Tell your children or students about times when it’s hard for you to wait. Reveal that turn taking takes effort for all of us – grown ups, too!
Sharing is great! We all love sharing because we get to bring smiles to the faces of others and ourselves all at the same time! Turn taking takes teaching and practice and reinforcement. How do you teach turn taking?
Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??). I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.