Share and Share Alike
August 29, 2010
My little girl loves library days. A themed story and craft is her ideal way to pass an hour. So, when I signed her up for two afternoons a week of preschool, I had no concerns about her focus or her academic readiness.
What worried me was the image of her throwing a world-class tantrum because another child had selected the only pink bouncy ball.
Beginning approximately around the age of four, children begin to develop the capacity for empathy. Prior to that, sweeties like my son, who will happily turn over a toy if you prompt him by saying it is another child's turn, are play-acting rather than showing genuine empathy. Sharing before four is simply another game that some children are more willing to play than others.
But just as children enter the pre-K years, they develop what we call pro-social behavior. Essentially, children are developmentally able to understand what another person is feeling and to care about the feelings of another...at least some of the time.
So, if your toddler isn't that keen on being a team player, the good news is that he still has a little while before he is truly developmentally able to show compassion. You can help matters along by showing your child the importance of considering others' feelings.
- Model the Behavior: When you think of others first, you are setting an example your children will follow. If possible, look for volunteer opportunities in the community where you can bring along your children or possibly even include them.
- Encourage Interaction Across Age Groups: Studies have shown that mixed-age groupings have benefits for older and younger children. The older children tend to be less aggressive around the younger children and younger children mimic the more sophisticated play of the older children.
- Ask Children to Consider How They Would Feel: When your child hurts another child's feelings (code for yanking away a toy or smacking another child on the head), ask your child to consider how she would feel in the same situation. Do not expect she'll understand the importance of this revelation right away. Repetition is the key. Once she begins to connect how she would feel with how the other child feels, she can begin to make amends andeventually think before she acts.
- Role Play Situations: Help children practice difficult situations in advance. Younger children may respond well to using dolls to play act out typical scenarios. Give your children ideas about how to react and you will find them using these phrases to respond.
Do not despair if your toddler is not ready yet to share and show consideration. Some children are less willing to play along with expected behaviors than others but they will still develop pro-social skills with time and patience. My own daughter now cheerfully sets up little games for her baby brother and comforts him when he has boo-boos.
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