When my daughter Ruby was 22 months old, she learnt the word “mine” along with the concept that certain possessions belonged to different people. My husband and I found it quite amusing that she was suddenly exclaiming “mine!!” whenever we picked up something of hers. But then a friend with a daughter of a similar age came to visit. Previously Ruby had been happy to share her space and toys with others. But this visit was punctuated by her saying “mine mine!” whenever her little friend picked up one of her toys.
I’d always been so proud that Ruby had been able to share so well. What had changed? I wondered if it was my fault. I wasn’t sharing all my possessions with her. My mobile phone and computer were off limits. She had already broken my computer mouse, so I did need to set some limits to protect my possessions! But if I wasn’t being flexible with my ‘rules’ then how could I expect Ruby to share her most treasured possessions? I started to relax my rule about my mobile phone. I would let her play with it for a few short ‘special times.’ It turned out to be a lovely connected time, where I got to share her excitement, and surprise as she pressed the buttons and made things happen. We talked together about what the phone, smiling, and making lots of eye contact, so it wasn’t just about the phone, but about spending time together too. It’s not something I’d do every day, but I wanted to occasionally relax the rigid idea, that “this is mine, and that is yours.”
We also played a fun Playlistening game, where I would say in an inviting tone, “I’m just going to send a message on my phone,” and have the phone within grabbing reach of her. She would take it and I’d act all surprised, exclaiming “oh my phone!” She laughed a lot, really enjoying playing the powerful role of taking my possessions.
One evening I picked up one of Ruby’s teddy bears, and she immediately launched into “mine, mine!” “Whoops! Sorry,’’ I said, ‘’I thought it was mine.’’ She giggled as I handed the teddy bear back. We had started Playlistening again. I would take a teddy bear or doll, cradle it, and say ‘’oh my lovely baby.’’ She would exclaim ‘’mine!’’ I would apologise, as if I’d done it accidentally, and hand it back. She giggled and giggled and kept saying ‘da da’ which is her word for ‘again.’’ Once Playlistening gets initiated she often asks me to repeat the same things that make her laugh.
After dinner Ruby, her daddy and I would go to the local park to play on the grass. We love to do Playlistening outside, where we can freely avoid our household chores, and concentrate on having fun and connecting together! I would throw a cuddly toy in the air and we would all race off to get it. The finish was close, and Ruby would giggle a lot as she always managed to get the toy just in time.
All this laughter while playing the powerful role was helping her to release the tensions and fears that were coming up around sharing. She was having all this wonderful playtime, always getting the toys. I wondered if it would help her feel comfortable to share again.
The next day two of her little friends came round. Almost immediately one of the girls took Ruby’s buggy, Ruby erupted with “mine!’’ Oh no, I thought, the girl who loved to share is gone.
Of course the buggy was Ruby’s. I wanted to hear her feelings, but she hadn’t been playing with it at the time, so it seemed fair to let Julia continue playing with it. I gently told Ruby, ‘’Yes, it’s yours, but I think Julia would like to play with it for a bit.’’ Ruby seemed to understand that Julia was just borrowing it. And it turned out that Julia only wanted the buggy so Ruby took the baby out and played with it instead.
After that the three toddlers played happily all afternoon, sharing toys, and working things out for themselves so us mums were free to chat! Ruby was feeding the other girls cherries, and bringing them their water bottles. I was so happy to see her kind generous nature shining through again.
We often think it’s our job as parents to encourage sharing, to time turns, or give a toy to another child to stop a tantrum. This can be an exhausting task! There have been times when I’ve watched my daughter always want the toy that another child has, and if I constantly try to meet this need, it doesn’t seem to satisfy her. Often it’s not about the toy, it’s about the feelings that come up for a child when they see a kid having fun with a toy they don’t have. Maybe they think, ‘’if I had that toy I would feel better.’’
Our time and energy as parents is better spent listening. We can listen to the upset feelings, the tears and tantrums as another child plays with a toy. We can listen to the laughter, playing games to release the tension and fears that come up around sharing.
All our children love to share. When they are free of upset feelings they naturally want to get on well with others, and share the joy of their most treasured possessions. Taking the time to listen, connect, and play, helps to restore this natural state of co-operation and generosity.