How Can I Help My Child Learn to Share on Play-dates?

How do I help my 3-year child learn to share with playmates when he doesn’t want to share any of his toys when we’re at our own house?

MOM: I remember that one thing you did with your daughter, after she had had a few play-dates that hadn’t gone well, was that you decided to talk with her in advance of the  next play-date about putting aside her favorite animals and toys to be “off-limits” to the friends who come to play.  She then was able to share her other toys more freely.  Remember how when the play-date was over, she would take out her special toys to reassure herself, or to comfort herself? She got to feel that her needs were recognized by her mom: that there were a few things that were very special to her, that just belonged to her, that she didn’t have to share with anyone else.

MOLLY: Yep, I remember. It was her blanket and her favorite doll. She really got into gathering her special things before friends would come over, and picking a hiding place that no one would be able to find or get to.

MOM: Right: they were her very own things. I thought that was a perfectly fine way to handle her qualms about sharing her toys with friends. For a child, if you have some of your very own things that are precious to you, you get to keep them separate from the “community.”

MOLLY: You do this all before you get to the actual play-date right?

MOM: Right. Then you get to establish the deal with her: now that you put your special things away, everything else needs to be shared. That’s the deal.

MOLLY: The other thing that has helped us a lot – we had had some really bad play-dates, times where I’d feel so embarrassed by her selfish behavior and think I’m never setting up another play-date again – is to prep my daughter ahead of time.

As we’re driving to a birthday party, for example, we review the rules: No whining or crying at the party, remember about sharing….

MOM: Advance preparation is enormously helpful and pretty easy to do if you’re conscious about it. It’s the same thing as when you begin to help teach your children how to meet new people (people you know, but are new to them), in terms of shaking hands politely and looking the newcomer in the eye. You teach them that type of thing beforehand, you prep them for it. You practice with them, role-play, and model the behavior.

MOLLY: And review. “Let’s remember there’s no whining and crying at this play-date, or else we’re going to have to leave.”

MOM: Yes, there needs to be a cause and effect. If there’s whining, this is what’s going to happen.

MOLLY: So you don’t catch the child by surprise?

MOM: That’s right, you never want to catch a child by surprise. You always want to give a warning and notice of what the consequences will be before enforcing them.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with nightmare play-dates using other strategies. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

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