According to author of the parenting book “It’s OK Not to Share” Heather Shumaker, protecting your child’s right to play with a toy until he’s all done deepens and strengthens the parent-child relationship, and, ultimately, encourages true generosity to be birthed. Here’s an excerpt from her best-selling book.

teaching children to wait for their turn

“You’re reading a magazine when suddenly someone takes it from you and starts reading the feature story. ‘I want it,” he says. ‘You’ve had it a long time.’

Do you get mad?

Turn-taking

As adults, we expect our friend to wait his turn before grabbing the magazine. We don’t like to be interrupted. When we’re done, we gladly hand it over. The same turn-taking concept should apply to young kids. A child’s turn should be over when she is ‘all done’.”

Shumaker proposes that, instead of telling, coaxing or forcing your child to share on demand, it is much more beneficial in the long run to coach him or her how to “take turns”.

From the point of view of the child who has the toy, he needs to experience control over that toy, and needs you, the parent, to recognize that the play that he is engaged in matters to him. It might not seem like a big deal to you that he give up his toy to another kid to play with, but to a young child, all sorts of thoughts and feelings may be running through his body.

Thoughts like “What I want is not as important as what other people want” or “Sharing means giving up things that I like” or “I’m never getting it back”, or even “My mother loves the other child more than me”.

Sharing on demand doesn’t teach a child true generosity

It enforces obedience and creates the image of a loving and kind playmate, but with minimal positive or sometimes negative impact on the little heart beneath.

As parents, we often feel pressured to persuade our child to share his toys as soon as another kid wants it. But as parents, we need to put aside our fears of how others will perceive us, and not sacrifice our own kid for the sake of face or others’ needs.

We need to protect and promote our child’s right to play and not pressurize them to give up the thing they are currently engaged in without very good reason.

Introducing the concept of turn-taking to young children protects this right to play, and also teaches them the valuable lessons of impulse control, delayed gratification, empathy and true generosity.

Turn-taking is no easy feat for kids

Why turn taking is better than sharing

As your child learns to wait for his turn for something like a toy, he has to struggle with tough emotions like frustration, disappointment, anger, and sadness. He gains self-awareness of the impact of having to wait for something that he really wants; later on, this may translate to a deeper empathy for others in the same situation.

The child with the toy is also learning

He learns to tell others that he is not done with the toy, which trains him in his communication and helps him set healthy boundaries for himself. He doesn’t need to fear that he will be forced to relinquish control of his playtime. When he finishes a turn and gives up the toy to another, he gets to fully experience the satisfaction of having enjoyed the play and being able to bless another kid with the opportunity to play.

One bonus of this whole experience is that both children learn to direct their play for themselves.

For toddlers and young children, the adult may need to give them the words to say. “I am not done yet. It’s your turn when I’m done, okay?”

But with practice, over time, these children will learn to say the words for themselves, and practice turn-taking on their own initiative without your prompting. This is what Shumaker refers to as “child-directed play”, and it’s definitely good news for us parents, because it means we won’t be fighting “That’s mine!” wars all day long!

So try this.

Instead of saying “Be nice and share with your friend”, try:

“You can play with it after you’re done. But look, Clara really wants to play with the toy. Will you tell her when you’re done?”

Instead of “You don’t need to play with both spoons. Give one to Tim”, try:

“I see you are playing with two spoons. It looks like you are enjoying yourself! Tim would like to play with a spoon. When you’re done, can you let him know?”

And for the waiting child, instead of “Don’t worry, I’ll get Mark to share it with you.”, try:

“I see Mark is still playing with the toy. Let me check if he’s done with it yet… He says he’s not done yet. Oh, you’re so mad about it. You really want the toy now, don’t you? It’s so hard to wait. I’ll wait with you. What shall we do while we wait?”

It can sound revolutionary to our typical Asian culture of being “nice” to everyone, especially outsiders, but this concept of turn-taking is intrinsically a very healthy and authentic way of relating with others.

Try it out on your kids for a week, and see the results for yourself!

By Dorothea Chow