Human beings have a need to have control of something. It is one of our many emotional needs. Children see their parents with “toys” like cars, jewelry, electronics and a host of other things that the child equates to their “toys.” Then they see that we, the parents, get to choose who gets to play with our “toys.” Sometimes we let them play with the toy and sometimes we don’t. They see that there are some toys that we don’t let anyone else touch.
Because our children want to be like us and act like us, they assume that if a toy belongs to them, they also get to choose who gets to play with it and when. If your child has a friend over and they are told by you that they HAVE to share their toy with another person, this feels wrong to them and they will act out in an attempt to explain this to you.
Imagine if my husband and I were out with another couple of friends and I said to the other woman, “My I like those shoes, can I borrow them.” This might feel a little strange to you. But if my friend’s husband turned to his wife and said, “You need to let her wear them”, you would KNOW something was very wrong. But it’s the same as us MAKING our children share toys that belong them.
If you want your children to learn to share during play dates here is an idea. Separate the toys in your house. Allow there to be toys –a good many- that belong to your child. If you have multiple children you can do this too. Everyone has some toys that belong to THEM. Label or separate them is some way. The rest of the toys in the house are FAMILY TOYS that belong to everyone but mom and dad have ultimate control over the FAMILY TOYS. Mom and Dad also have a box of kid’s toys of their own which they choose to share with everyone all the time. This models the behavior of sharing. When a friend comes over, the friend is welcome to play with all the FAMILY TOYS because YOU get to choose what they play with. You also let them play with Mom and Dad’s toys. Your child is also welcome to share his toys with his friend if HE wants. But don’t force him. During play date, stand up for your child’s choices. Don’t MAKE him share, but you can gently encourage him to.
If you consistently let your child have the control over this, he will begin to loosen the “grip” he has on his toys. He will no longer be afraid that someone is going to come at any moment and “take” what is his. And if you consistently model sharing your belongings with others he will begin to share too.