Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD
Sharing is a hot topic in parenting class. Parents often ask, “How to I get my kids to share?” I think underneath they are asking even bigger and more important questions: “How do I teach my children to see the world beyond their skin?” “How do I teach empathy?” “How do I teach them to see the world through another person’s eyes so that they can be curious, compassionate and contribute to making the world a better place?” These are questions all of us ask – sometimes about our children, about our colleagues and yes – even about ourselves.
Development: The ability to share and to see the world from the perspective of another changes as brains grow. Not until children are 6 – 8 months old do they begin to understand that they can interact with a world that is not just “them.” That is when you start to see experiments with the outside world – like dropping food from a high chair and peek-a–boo as well as misunderstandings about the outside world (not being sure that you will come back when you leave the room.) Toddlers have a sense of property that is different than ours (if I see it it’s mine, if I want it it’s mine, if I’ve been playing with it it’s mine, etc) and though they can take turns with practice, they don’t usually develop the sense of sharing until they are about three. Sharing then gets easier until hormones hit the adolescent brain and the world gets refocused around “me” again.
The sense of “enoughness.” In order to share children need to have a sense that there IS enough and that they ARE enough. They learn from the adults around them. They learn from what we say – but more often from our body language and what we do. When we convey the sense of enoughness to our children daily they will absorb and learn. If, like many of us, you grew up with the idea that you were not good enough or smart enough or good-looking enough or worked hard enough or were not strong, thin, happy (etc) enough this can be a stretch and … it is doable.
Hints for growing the ability to share and see the world through other’s eyes:
Keep development in mind:
Sharing and seeing the world through others eyes are important life skills but expecting success before your child’s brain is developmentally ready or before they’ve had lots of time to practice will leave both of you frustrated and not feeling like you are “enough.”
• Begin to notice your own sense of “I’m not enough” and practice reminding yourself that you don’t need to be perfect to be enough. Good enough is, well, good enough.
• Use encouragement instead of praise. Encouragement is the space we make for others to become their best selves. We can do this best by reflecting strengths instead of pointing out faults or how things should be.
• Practice living from the attitude that there is enough. Sometimes that is a hard vision to hold when you are trying to make ends meet in tough times. Children can learn about sharing and others when we continue to be generous. It might be a small contribution at church, or bringing food for a food drive, or helping an elderly neighbor bring in groceries – but even when times are tough – there is room to share time or resources with someone who might have less.
• As a family develop rituals and practices for growing gratitude and generosity.
A city-wide opportunity for sharing: May 2nd, 2012 is the 2nd Annual GiveBIG day in Seattle. It is a day to acknowledge and celebrate the hundreds of organizations big and small that work tirelessly to create a better community for all of us.
We would appreciate your investment in us. Join in between midnight and midnight on MAY 2ND. You can donate anytime, but on May 2nd, the Seattle Foundation adds to your donation. You can donate directly here. If you are stretched financially you help us by forwarding this to friends and family. Better yet, do both! Join us on Facebook and repost, follow us on twitter and retweet. Your support means that we can continue to support parents, parenting educators and teachers to build stronger and more respectful relationships. We teach people to do the right thing even when no one is looking. Thank you very much!