**This is a guest post by Kelly Bartlett, author of Parenting From Scratch and contributing editor of API Speaks.**
Yesterday, JJ willingly gave up his spot on the playground, stepping aside from the climbing structure and saying to a girl, “Here, would you like a turn?” He could see she was standing there at the bottom, watching and waiting for him to be done.
A few days before that, he noticed that his 3-year-old cousin was having a hard time sitting still during a presentation at the nature center, and as a suggested solution, he whispered to me, “Mom, Oscar can play with my cars that are in your purse if he wants to.”
When did this happen? When did my son become The Boy Who Won’t Share Anything to Mr. Thoughtful? I think it was around age…? Hm. I don’t think there was magic age. But age is key here.
His moments of consideration are a big deal to me because once upon a time there was a 3-year old JJ who wouldn’t share. Toys were something to be possessed, hoarded, whined about if someone even looked at something he was playing with. I remember when sharing (or lack thereof) was a big “parenting issue” for us.
Not so much anymore. Now he is 6. Now he makes an effort to offer toys and turns.
And why is sharing no longer an issue for us? Was it because he was coached with my motherly choruses of, “Oh, let’s share! We share with friends! Share! You take a turn then she takes a turn! Share! You have one more minute then it’s time to share! Share! Share!”? No, it’s because he grew up. The difference is now he’s 6 instead of 3. That’s it.
So many “parenting issues” are phases of behavior that a child will naturally outgrow if given support, understanding, help, and acceptance. We support our kids through their difficult stages of development, redirect their energy when necessary, help them find acceptable solutions, and understand that they will outgrow difficult behaviors in their own time. And then we let kids do just that.
Looking back, I see that my parenting efforts surrounding “issues” like sharing were mostly based in fear.
I was afraid that my son would never share. That his behavior would always be the this way. Forever. Maybe you have similar fears. That your child will always be The Girl who Hits, or the Boy Who Won’t Use The Potty, or The Girl Who Doesn’t Stay In Bed At Night, or…you get the idea. We’re afraid for the permanence of this behavior and we think we need to do something about it now.
I thought I had to actively teach JJ about sharing, when all I really needed to do was support him in his current level of development and trust that his brain would mature. I didn’t teach JJ how to share. He grew up, and now he’s capable of sharing.
Most challenging behaviors don’t require doing to, they require getting through.
Teaching takes time more than anything else.
Kelly Bartlett is a Certified Positive Discipline Educator and a freelance parenting writer with a focus on child development, family relationships and discipline. She is the author of Parenting From Scratch, where she blogs about her family’s endeavors in unconditional parenting.