Solving Sharing Issues

Your role as a mediator can help children "feel like sharing."

Dear Polly,

I seem to spend a great deal of time in my preschool dealing with an increasing number of sharing problems. One child, Toni, has a particularly difficult time sharing just about anything we have in the classroom, along with things she brings from home. This "I won't share" feeling seems to be spreading among the other children. What should I do?

It is important to keep in mind that some things are easier to share than others. Let's look at a variety of "sharing" situations.

Sharing Classroom Toys and Turns. Imagine the following: Toni wheels her baby around in the carriage. Tina scoots over and grabs the carriage, claiming she had it first. What's a teacher to do? Squat or stoop down so you don't appear to be a giant swooping in to dictate a decision. Say, "You both want turns. Let's figure this out together."

Ask Toni why she thinks it's her turn. You'll probably learn that Toni was using the carriage, left it, and Tina, who needed it, took it.

Help Toni explain the facts. Help Tina explain that she thought Toni was finished with the carriage. Show that you understand both points of view:

"Toni didn't feel finished yet."

"Tina didn't know you were still using the carriage."

Say, "Let's think about how we can solve this problem so both of you get turns." Consult each girl in turn, indicating that you expect each to listen thoughtfully to the other. Surprisingly often, the disputants themselves come up with a solution, sometimes one we never would have thought of!

There are times when, in the end, teachers need to make judgment calls. To me, the quality of a teacher's judgment — and her willingness to use her own judgment — is the measure of the excellence of her work.

"Toni, you were very busy, and you parked the carriage for such a long, long time that Tina thought it was O.K. for her to take a turn. We're going to let her finish walking her baby. Tina, when you're finished, please give the carriage to Toni." If she's still pushing it around more than a few minutes later, you may have to tell her that in two minutes it'll be Toni's turn.

"Tina, your baby needed the carriage so much that you didn't notice Toni was still using it, she just parked it for a minute. We're going to let Toni finish her turn. I'll tell you when it's your turn."

It is important for teachers to take the time for this. Helping young children get along with others while finding ways to get their own needs met should be a priority.

Sharing Friends. Some pairs of friends play particularly well together. Their play is deeply engrossing, imaginative, and prolonged. It may or may not be possible for them to include a child who wants to play with them without ruining their ongoing activity.

A teacher can help the child seeking to join in (frequently by pestering the players) express his wishes. She can either help the players find a role for the newcomer, or she can help the players say: "I can't play with you right now, but I'll play with you later." The teacher should follow up to be sure that the commitment is kept.

Teachers need to take children's special friendships and intense play seriously. Here's a way to demonstrate respect for individual children.

Sharing Personal Possessions. I don't expect a child to share a personal possession any more than I expect a co-worker to share her pocketbook. Some teachers welcome a brief group-time sharing and then require that the special possession be put in the owner's cubby. (Unless it's a precious cuddle blanket or other beloved security object such as the cap the child wants to wear to nap. Then, of course, the child should be allowed to keep it with him unless and until he can part with it comfortably and park it in his cubby "for a little while.")

Sharing Feelings. This is the one area where we must ask ourselves some serious questions. Is your classroom a safe place for the sharing of fearful, sad, hurt, or angry feelings? Do you help each child express and handle "bad" feelings in a positive way? After all, feelings are at the root of all behavior, including failure to share. Helping each child learn to express his feelings clearly, and listen to his adversary's feelings, can help children feel like sharing.

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