Go to any playground, preschool, or playgroup in America and you’ll hear an adult telling a child, “You need to share that now; give him a turn.”
Wait, isn’t sharing supposed to be a joint activity? As in, we are “sharing the sandbox” or we are “sharing the couch” or we are “sharing the tub”. Sharing can involve using something at the same time.
In another definition, doesn’t sharing have something to do with choice and altruism, as in “sharing a sandwich” or “sharing a blanket”? People want children to grow up to be nice to people. Unfortunately, adults typically use the words “share” and “turn” interchangeably, confusing children and creating a negative connotation towards what should be a positive character trait – sharing!
Don’t Make Sharing Negative
To a young child, the experience of sharing is often forced losing; it means giving something up. Think about it. Whenever adults tell a child to share something with someone, the child doing the sharing is on the losing end of that equation, getting less than whatever she originally had….sharing food, sharing toys, sharing space. It is no surprise that, to a young child, “share” is a negative word!
If we are cognizant of our tone in using this word, we can actually create a positive association with the word. We can purposely use it to describe altruistic, empathetic actions people take for each other. Children eventually do learn to instigate “authentic sharing”; when they see examples of us doing it, when we point out others doing it, when they are the recipients of it, and when, developmentally, they become more capable of true empathy. They discover that it feels really great to help people and to be more inclusive with their friends and siblings. Sharing is caring!
Turns, on the other hand, are easier to understand, easier to manage, and easier to learn. Turns are temporary; they come and they go. Even if your turn ended, there is a good chance you can have another. It doesn’t feel so dire to a young child; it is an easier pill to swallow.
Children are concrete thinkers and the concept of having to share is quite abstract, especially to a small, egocentric human! Turns, on the other hand, can be explained visually because turns have a clear beginning and ending. For example, when you notice a child putting down a toy, ask him if he is “done with his turn”. Help him to understand that by leaving the item, someone else can take the next turn; a “new” turn begins.
And, if your child clamors for something being held by another child, point out that the other child is having a turn because they are holding it – but that when they put it down, your child can have the “next turn”. It is a beautiful system, really; turns are easy to spot and turns are temporary. The hardest part is learning how to wait for your turn to come around again.
Five Easy Turn-Taking Tips
- Play simple games that involve taking turns, such as picture matching and lotto games.
- While reading a picture book, point out situations where the characters take turns.
- Comment on your own everyday turn-taking.
- At the meat counter say, “Let’s pull a ticket number so we can get ready for our turn. Even grown-ups have to take turns. What shall we do while we wait? I know….let’s say a fun nursery rhyme.”
- “Look, so many cars in line at the bridge! Everyone wants a turn to cross the water.”
- “Here we are in line at the bank, waiting for our turn to talk to the man. After the lady in front of us is all done, then it will be our turn.”
- Model turn-taking in everyday situations.
- “I’m through brushing my hair. Do you want a turn with the brush?”
- “Let’s put this puzzle together. I’ll try this piece here…yes, it fits. Your turn…”
- “May I have a turn with the spoon? I need some more potatoes.”
- “Whose turn is it to sit in the red chair?”
- Help children determine when a turn begins and ends.
- “You want a turn with the red shovel? Looks like it is being used by Mario. While you are waiting for his turn to be over, let’s try to find one that isn’t being used.”
- “You put the doll down; that was the end of your turn. Analena picked up the doll; now it is her turn.”
- “Look, Sonia got off the blue bike. That’s the one you wanted. Her turn is over so you can use it now!”
By Lisa Poelle