Social Development of the Young Child
In the center of a sandbox in a nursery school stood a steam shovel. Two boys were looking at the shovel when the teacher told them to "share" it and to "take turns." Within moments, the boys were fighting, and each one claimed that it was his turn. Although sharing and taking turns are familiar concepts to older children and adults, they are foreign to the young child.
The truth is that young children often regard toys as an extension of themselves. Asking them to share is like asking them to give away part of themselves. It is because children regard objects as parts of themselves that they get into such violent fights over toys. One of the achievements of the preschool years is the gradual breakdown of the identification of the self with things. This separation also helps the child appreciate objects in their own right and not as an extension of herself or of another child.
This differentiation is gradual, and teachers can help it along. We must begin by recognizing how important possessions are to children. Offering rewards for sharing, although a natural reaction, is not always helpful. It ignores the child's investment in the object. A more successful procedure is to acknowledge ownership or temporary possession. If a child, say, brings a truck to school, it is helpful to clearly label it with her name, perhaps with a placard that reads, "Mary's truck," When the toy is labeled in this way, the child is much more willing to share because it is clear that the truck is hers and will be returned. Often underlying a child's unwillingness to share is the very public loss of what she regards as part of herself.
When my children were young, I spent a lot of time teaching them to share, to help them separate the self from things. When they got older, however, I found myself encouraging them not to share! One son was characteristically too generous. He sometimes loaned his toys to other children and did not ask for them back. One friend often borrowed his bike and then returned it scratched and dirty. As my children grew older, I tried to teach them that they had to be discriminating about whom they shared with. Learning about sharing, like so much in child development, must necessarily be relearned at older ages.
© ______ 1994, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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