Sharing and Autonomy in Young Children

by Matt Bronsil, Montessori Cool Things (FB page)

Someone in another group mentioned they have 3 children: 1, 3, and 6. Said she is having trouble with her children sharing with and respecting another 3-year-old that lives in the space. I typed this reply:
I wonder what the conversations about sharing and kindness are. I am not saying you are definitely doing this, but I hear it a lot. So if this doesn’t help you, it might help someone else here.
Imagine a neighbor comes over and says, “You know. I want to get to Mexico this week. Can I use your credit card and car?” You would, I am guessing, say no. If not, have any vacancies for rent? I could sure use a neighbor like you. 😉At the same time, if your neighbor came over and said, “Man. My wife is in the bathroom. We just found out we are out of toilet paper. Can we borrow a roll and we’ll get you back tomorrow?” you would probably help out.
The point is this: even adults have limits of what we share and don’t. But as adults, we think children sharing means they share everything. That is because we do not see their toys in the same way we see our own possessions. But they do. We often say children cannot touch our stuff, but we often tell children they have to let anyone use their things. Because of this…
(click to read more)
A similar thing may be happening with your children. It may not be clear what toys your nanny’s son can play with and which ones are off-limits.
So where I would begin is by talking to the oldest child first. Set up a shelf for toys. Or a room. Or a basket. Or. Whatever. Explain that when we have guests over, we need toys that everyone can play with. Because imagine going to someone’s house and you cannot play with ANYTHING. (It would be torture for a child). So we need to decide what toys we are willing to share without asking and which toys they have to have permission to use.

When you select the toys that are open, then approach the 3 year old. Ask the same thing. Have the 3 year old pick out which toys are open and put them on that shelf (or…wherever).
Then you have a clear guideline. Whatever toys are in that area may not be taken away by someone else. They are shared by everyone. Even if it is your toy and someone else is playing with it, you cannot take it. You have to just wait for your turn and maybe do something else while you wait.
My parents did this with my brother and me. Any toys on the shelf in the basement (we had a finished, furnished basement) were open to anyone, including either of us or guests. Anything in our room, we had to ask permission to get. My parents could not give me permission to go into my brother’s room to get a toy. They could not give him or any visitor permission to go into mine.
What you will see is as children feel they have the power to choose with whom they share the toys, they will share more of the things in their room and maybe even move them to the common area. Usually a lack of sharing is because:
1) It really is too precious to the child. And it should not be share. OR
2) The child just does not feel safe that they have control over their own things.

Now, another factor coming into play here is the 6 year old is moving into a different stage of development. The 6 year old is going into an age of extreme fairness. And their concept of fair is not quite developed yet and it is based on rules and making sure “things are fair…as long as it works in my favor.” It is often portrayed as things adults feel is rude behavior, which I think you are running into here. It is really different from the 5 year old or even the early 6 year old. It is the age of “if I don’t like you right now, you’re no longer my best friend” (any of us remember that at a young age?). But that fairness works in your favor here as well. By saying “these are the guidelines. These are the rules we agreed upon about the toys in this room..” The 6 year old can at least begin to agree and change. The key at that point is consistency, asking him (sorry…I may have assumed a “he” many times because I think of how my parents dealt with things, having raised 2 boys. No offense intended if it is a “she.”) to explain the rule, and see if the rule is broken by the child.
The 3 year old seems a mix of two things. First off, as I read a few times here, the 3-year-old is following the 6-year-old. I bet that plays a part. But also, 3 year olds do not play the same way. They will often parallel play. So they will be playing with their toys. A child will be next to them playing with their toys. And they are playing separate stories they are imagining with their own things, but they are playing next to each other. So they are not “playing WITH each other,” like 2 adults might imagine playing chess or a basketball game. They are forming that bond by playing near each other. So the caregiver then might need to make sure each child’s toys are protected. Your child cannot take the toy her child is playing with. And her child cannot take the toy your child is playing with. They are each creating their own imagination and story and to take something away from that means destroying that story. Protecting each child’s toys means they can still develop what they have.
As for your 1-year-old child, yeah. Just going to grab everything and try to feel it in their mouth. That is just a 1-year-old. Distract and redirect to something else. They are not thinking of sharing as much as they want the sensory experience of that object. If it is taken by the 1-year-old, get it back and find something else they can do.
Hope this helps. Good luck.