Could NOT Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? – Part Two

Could NOT forcing toddlers to share help with sharing issues?

A while back I posted an article about the sharing issues between my two young toddlers (then 24 months and 11 months). I explained how my eldest daughter, Lucy, was struggling with allowing her younger sister, Penny, to have, well, pretty much anything. From morning to night, I would hear cries of “No! Mine!” even if Penny was clearly not interested in whatever it was Lucy was fiercely protecting. Rarely was Penny able to play freely with a toy or object without having to work through a conflict with her sister.

I wanted to post a ‘Part Two’ to this ongoing saga as I know how common this extremely difficult behaviour is in households everywhere and I also know how hard it can be sometimes to trust and believe that intervening scarcely will still result in a child who knows the value of sharing and shows empathy and consideration for others.

Lucy is now two years and nine months old whilst Penny is just 20 months. These children of mine are delightful in every sense of the word and seek out fun, adventure and a little bit of mischief in many of their undertakings. Despite their long-lived sibling battle, they would both rather play in each other’s company than play on their own. It is extremely reassuring for me to know this as I have often worried that the persistent possessiveness and need for control, Lucy has displayed towards Penny would result in a permanent blight on their developing relationship.

It has been quite a struggle for me to let go of this fear and allow my children the space they need to grow their own relationship. In doing so I have come to realise that with each act of taking, comes an opportunity for giving. For each cry out in anger comes a deeper understanding of each other’s tolerances and limits. And with each act of aggression comes an opportunity to learn empathy as they listen to each other’s suffering and feel their own pangs of misery as a result. As they lay their foundations for their own developing lives, they are learning to let each other in, little by little, step by step. My role is to simply allow this relationship journey to unfold safely without trying to force it, coerce it or manipulate it to unnaturally grow nicely, peacefully or overly quickly.

More frequently now, my patience and perseverance with my chosen technique is being rewarded with little previews of the true, unabashed kindness that my children possess. All those traits of empathy and consideration previously unseen are starting to blossom and fill the house with morsels of joy.

Just last week, I got caught up in the Christmas fever and baked a batch of gingerbread cookies – with the children of course. It was just a small batch. Just enough so that each of us could have just one large heart-shaped cookie each. They smelled wonderful as the aromas of sweet ginger filled the house and once out of the oven, I had a hard time keeping the children away from them long enough to let them cool.

By the time afternoon tea time came, the cookies were ready and the girls were very excited to take their hearts outside and sit side by side on the patio to eat them. Now, I should mention here that Lucy is a notoriously slow eater. She chews each mouthful carefully and is never in a hurry to go for the next one. Penny, on the other hand, devours her food, often barely even bothering to chew, instead gulping things down after just one bite and then hurriedly returning for the next. Penny is consequentially always quick to finish her meals and will often complete a second helping before Lucy is even half way through her first. On this day, with the gingerbread, things were no different.

The girls came wandering back inside about five minutes after going out. Penny had just one small piece left which she quickly shoved in her mouth before reaching out her hand and exclaiming “Bor, Bor!” (her indication for more). I said “You’ve finished your cookie and are asking for more. There’s no more now. There was just one each”. Not content with this, she trotted around into the kitchen, pushed her little step over to the bench where she knew the cookie tray was resting and climbed up. Somehow she knew there was one left – Daddy’s for when he returned home from work. I explained that this one was Daddy’s cookie and that she had finished hers but she was most unhappy with this prospect and proceeded to cry a heart wrenching cry to let me know.

During all this, Lucy stood quietly, watching, observing, clutching her cookie. When Penny began to cry she came towards her and without any hesitation said “Here Penny, you can have some of mine!” and with that she broke off a little corner of her heart and held it out to Penny. Unfortunately, by this stage, Penny was not in a good state. She swung her arms wildly at Lucy’s outstretched hand, sending the little piece flying across the kitchen. I calmly sportscast “You didn’t want that piece Lucy gave you, Penny. She climbed down her step and threw herself dramatically to the floor, screaming. Lucy then said, very matter-of-factly to me “I think Penny wanted a bigger one!” “Yeah” I replied.

What happened next has proven to me that it is not necessary for me to teach kindness, empathy or even sharing. These are innate in children and will come out themselves if they are fostered in the right environment and supported, without judgement as they snake their way through the egocentric stages of those early years. They see us modelling kindness on a daily basis and gradually make their own associations between feeling good about themselves and being treated nicely.

In the kitchen that day, Lucy proceeded to break off the lion’s share of her remaining cookie, handing it to Penny, who was still lying on the floor. Penny, accepted with a look of gratitude leaving Lucy with just one small mouthful in her hand. The girls merrily danced out of the kitchen together, running off to play and stopping only so that Penny could pick up the other piece of cookie that she had previously sent flying. She happily shovelled it into her mouth whilst still clutching the much larger piece she had so kindly been offered before continuing outside with her big sister.

I was left somewhat dumbfounded and strangely feeling like the ‘bad guy’ who didn’t give Penny the cookie she so badly wanted. Lucy had been the one to hear the suffering and sadness in Penny’s disappointed cry and showed remarkable selflessness and empathy to her little sister. The same little sister who had borne the brunt of Lucy’s ongoing emotional outbursts and couldn’t even walk into the same room as Lucy without needing to defend the toy she had chosen to play with, was now being supported and comforted by her long-standing rival.

This Mum couldn’t have been any prouder at that moment!

You might also like to read:

Could NOT Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? ~Peaceful Parents Confident Kids

The S Word – Toddlers Learning to Share ~ Janet Lansbury – Elevating Childcare

These Toddlers are NOT sharing ~ Janet Lansbury-Elevating Childcare


18 thoughts on “Could NOT Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? – Part Two

  1. Ms. S

    This is an absolutely wonderfully encouraging post! Thank you for sharing a window into your world again of how RIE helps encourage positive relationships in the home!

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  3. Megan

    I loved this article and the previous one on the same topic. I’m still pretty new to RIE and wonder how you know when to intervene. My 18 month old has a playmate who can be very aggressive. When things get physical, I always intervene, but there are times when they are just “arguing” over a toy (the other boy much more forceable than my son) and my son looks over at me as if to say, “help me out here, I’m a little freaked out!” In those moments it’s hard for me to know if he genuinely feels unsafe and as though he needs protecting or if it’s an uncomfortable interaction that he needs to learn to navigate. Any words of wisdom or further reading to suggest? Thanks!

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      The general rule of thumb I follow is if neither of the children is in direct physical danger, I let them work through it. I almost always sportscast, however! Simply stating what is happening for each of the children involved helps them to clarify in their own minds what is happening for both them and the other child. It also lets them both know that you are there and are present with them but trust them to work it out on their own. I wrote a post recently on sportscasting through sibling struggles which you may find useful.
      If a child seems surprised or freaked out. I would mention that too. “You had the truck, now Johnny has the truck. You seem worried/surprised/upset/…You hadn’t finished with the truck.”
      I hope this helps a little. It definitely takes some time to get the hang of it and to stop yourself leaping in and rescuing (especially when other people’s children are involved. Good luck with finding a style which suits you and your family.
      Kate xx

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  5. Laura

    Well, this was a nice article, but I have four boys and if I would have done this they would have killed each other.

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