Toddler Behaviour in Child Care – The Issue of Sharing

Toddler behavior is a topic widely written about. Toddlers and the issue of sharing has driven many child care workers out of the field and driven many parents to tears. Why is ‘toddlers and sharing’ such a hot topic in child care staff meetings and in parent conversations?

I recently attended a 2 year old birthday party in a home setting with my almost 3 year old. Four children arrived at the same time, amidst the flurry of holding babies and mothers being introduced to each other. In the corner of the room stood a brand new ride-in car…just one! Within the first 10 minutes, my daughter had a cut lip from being pushed away from the car, and she in turn had almost run over another child’s head. I am an early childhood teacher…I was meeting a new social group of Mums….and I was mortified!

I think it’s so easy to forget that toddlers and preschoolers are a bundle of energy and inquisitiveness, and that until a minimum of 2 years of age, they are completely ego-centric. According to them, they are the centre of the universe. Learning to share is a normal part of child development. However, where child care workers and parents can come unstuck is when they are not prepared for the learning process and are not pre-emptive with their strategies to support toddlers in this time of social growth.

The following strategies and tips may be new to you, or may simply be a reminder of some ways we can support toddlers as they learn to share:

1. Take a Step Back
As parents and child care workers, we seem to have ‘danger radars’. We can enter a new environment and immediately (and often sub-consciously) survey the whole room and pick out any items which may be dangerous to our precious little ones. I can recall a few houses I have visited and within seconds have noticed the scissors on the low coffee table or the hot coffee on the edge of the dining table (and of course discreetly moved them) . Why then, do we not do the same when it comes to seeing potential ‘sharing dangers’?

When we are responsible (as a parent or child care worker) for children moving to a new environment we need to quickly step back and survey potential sharing hazards. The morning arrival routine in a centre is a perfect example. The arrival is staggered and often we focus on greeting each child (which is positive!) but we forget that every arriving child brings a change in group dynamic. The child is often focused on heading straight for their favorite activity, regardless of who is already there. If we step back and survey the child’s arrival in the context of the whole group, we can more effectively pre-empt and manage sharing behavior issues.

2. Provide Adequate Resources
While we cannot necessarily provide one resource per child in a child care setting, we can provide more than one play space per child, and multiples of favourite activities. I have encountered a number of child care centres in despair over the behaviour in their toddler room, only to observe inadequate places for children to play. Consider the movement of toddlers in the following scenario:

Toddler room: 16 children
Activities Provided :
Playdough (4 chairs)
Painting (2 easel spaces)
Puzzles (4 chairs)
Books (4 cushions)
Blocks (no set number)

In this scenario there are 14 allocated play spaces in a room for 16 children, with no set number of children in the block corner. Children will end up on top of each other, tend to congregate in the block corner, and cannot freely flow between activities…this is what I would call a ‘sharing hazard’! Centres should provide at least 1.5 play spaces per child indoors, which in the above scenario would mean there should be a minimum of 24 places a child can play at any one time. (It is recommended that outdoors should have more playspaces than indoors).

3. Turn Taking Games
Children need to learn how to share, it does not happen by chance! Activities and games, undertaken in an environment supported by adults, can assist children learning to wait while still engaged in the activity in anticipation of their turn coming soon.

The key is to make the turn taking or waiting time age appropriate. We cannot expect a 2 ½ year old to wait their turn among 20 children and also expect to maintain their attention. Alternatively, we should be challenging the 4 year old to wait for longer periods in larger group sizes.

4. Turn Taking Language
When beginning the process of helping children to share, we need to use ‘turn taking language’ such as “my turn, your turn”, “whose turn next?”, “let’s let Michael have a go”. We can be exploring maths skills at the same time by talking about whose turn it is “first”, “second”, “next” etc. As we use this language more and more, we will find that children themselves start to use it too.

5. Turn Taking Supports
It can be very difficult for children to picture how long it will be before it is their turn. There are a number of turn taking supports which help children in the process of waiting:

Egg Timers – where children know they have until the sand runs out to have their turn. Alternatively they only have to waiting until the sand runs out before it is their turn next.

Turn Taking Cards – In preschoolers, children can be given colour coded cards, knowing that the person with the blue card goes first, next the red card and so on. A matching ‘turn chart’ can help children remember which colours are given a turn in which order.

Charts – Older children (4 years +) can “sign up” for their turn by writing their name on the chart. They can visually see that they need to wait through 4 other people until their turn.

Watches and Other Timers – are also good for older children who have learnt to tell time.

5. Praise the behavior not just the child for sharing
When praising children for their efforts in turn taking and sharing, it is important to remember to praise the behavior and not just the child. For example, it is much more effective to say “Well done Lisa for giving Hannah a turn,…that was good sharing”, rather than simply “Good Girl Lisa.” Be specific about what the child has done that was positive and this will help them understand what positive thing to do next time.

6. Understand the Process of Learning To Share
We need to remember that learning to share is actually a skills we continue to learn throughout life. Two people, newly sharing housing accommodation together, need to learn to share space, food, possibly furniture etc. If we realize how many marriages break down over the issue of sharing, we can start to forgive to tiny two year old for not wanting to share the ride on car or the swing.

Initially, toddlers can only wait short periods before expecting their turn again. A preschooler or older child can be expected to wait 5 – 10 minutes or more for their turn.

Initially, toddlers need to be the first to have a turn before relinquishing the item. A preschooler or older child can be encouraged to let ‘the other’ child have a turn first.

Learning to share takes time and takes great patience and encouragement from adults caring for them!

Cassandra Eccleston is a dedicated and experienced childcare professional and writes for Onsite Early Childhood Training who produce cutting edge Child Care Staff Training by DVD. You can visit our website for more free resources, downloads, forums and information on toddler behaviour and sharing and the latest childcare staff training available.