Sharing and Hogging
Q. My three-year-old has a very big issue with sharing and hogging. She has an 18 mo. old sister who is not allowed to touch anything. I understand that my daughter still is having a hard time with her arrival, she has to share me, she doesn’t get to have me all to herself, she doesn’t even get to read books alone with me and on top of it all I am three times as tired, have to do a lot more chores, can’t play with her at the drop of the hat, and she doesn’t get to have all of my adoration just for her. I still feel really guilty about that. At first I thought, fair enough the toys were hers, so I opted to buy my youngest toys for herself. I told my eldest and explained before we bought anything that I was buying for her sister so she doesn’t have to touch hers. She agreed but once the toy is bought she wants to have it and play with it. She gets so angry and hits me when I try to give the toy back to her sister.
A. Your 3 yr. old is not developmentally ready to share or understand that what she agrees to one minute must be agreed to another minute. So every time she is expected to share, she will resist because she feels confused and misunderstood — and most importantly, she wants what she wants when she wants it (absolutely normal).
The reason your 3 yr. old is holding and grabbing and being super vigilant about her things is that she is afraid she is in a losing battle and will not get what she wants. You know all the reasons why she is upset but do you acknowledge them when helping her? She is very afraid of losing her connection with you, her time with you, her old self, everything that was available to her that seems no longer.
Some flexible kids can take a new baby in stride but others are more sensitive to the fears they have about what the baby means and instead feel like they have been thrown under the bus.
Also you may be letting her call the shots in a way because you feel guilty. It sounds like you are walking on eggshells, a common occurrence for parents with strong-minded, emotional children, but are trying to get her to change so that you can feel better. The trick here is to accept her just the way she is. Expect that she will not be able to share her things but do not change your life to accommodate her. Explain to her that toys are for taking turns and that once the other is done playing with something, she gets her turn. Then be vigilant. Don’t expect that she will be able to switch willingly. This will mostly go over her head and her impulsivity will take over in the moment of want. Explaining whose toy is whose is wasted energy.
When she grabs or screams, gently and lovingly carry her away and say, “I know you really wish that were yours. You want to play with it very badly.” Acknowledge her feelings without adding, ‘but’ this is what you have to do or understand. Do not punish, blame or threaten her in any way. That only increases her fear that she will lose out. Do not either allow her to take things from others or force her to share. Then offer, “What can you play with while you wait your turn for that truck?”
If she screams, so be it. Stay close and allow her to have her tantrum. This is a lot for a 3 yr. old to cope with. It’s the middle ground where you accept the fact that she is having such a hard time, acknowledge her feelings and comfort her, but do not allow her to take control. She is hitting you because she sees you as a threat rather than an ally. She needs to know that you understand her and are not trying to make her different. She is telling you with her behavior. Your work is to connect with the way she feels about the situation rather than to try to change it.
Q. My daughter used to love going to school and I didn’t have to yell at her 10 million times, but this term she has a new teacher and she does not want to go to school. She says the teacher is giving them really hard work. I have been trying to encourage her by telling her the teacher is challenging the kids but she seems to be falling behind other friends in her class who are excelling and loving the new challenges. She seems to be falling behind and losing her confidence and not wanting to go to school. So every morning is a struggle and my once happy go lucky child is crying, upset, not listening and does not want to go to school. I have been trying to help her with her work and encouraging her but it is not working. Do you have any quick advice?
A. It sounds like your encouraging is meant to get your daughter to understand and accept the new challenges. This is not encouraging to your daughter. Especially when accompanied by yelling at her resistance. What she needs is complete validation of her perspective. Let her know that you understand that this year is really hard and she doesn’t like it that her teacher is giving such hard work.
We typically don’t want to validate the negative things our children say because we are afraid they will get negative about everything. We think it’s our job to motivate our kids to think positively. That’s fine if we’re giving them information they didn’t have so they can think differently.
But your daughter needs acknowledgement for her point of view, her feelings, before you can connect and make progress. “So she’s giving much harder work than your other teacher did. That must feel really confusing/frustrating. I can understand your frustration about this. Especially when it seems like other kids are loving it and you’re hating it.” That lets your daughter know she is normal for having the feelings she has and helps her calm and feel heard.
When she thinks that you’re trying to get her to understand her teacher, she feels alone and wrong. So be 100% on her side first.
Then, “Are all the other kids doing the work? Do any feel the way you do?” to get her talking about it. Then ask her if she would like you to talk to the teacher about the work being too hard for her. Don’t ever jump in to try to solve your child’s problem at school without asking first. If she says yes, you might ask her if she would like to join you and tell the teacher how she feels. She’ll probably say no, so then ask her what she would like you to discuss with the teacher.
You can problem solve with her only after validating that you wouldn’t like this situation either. Engage her in finding the solution. Perhaps she would like to have a tutor. But for her to feel encouraged she needs first to feel understood and then to be part of finding a solution.
The Dark Side
Q. My 11-year-old daughter seems to love all things dark and sinister. She is attracted to evil characters in TV shows and games. It started with Monster High a few years ago (which has mostly good characters despite all being monster spawn) and has gone downhill from there. She is honest about it, doesn’t try to hide it, and gets really excited when talking about the characters and describing some of the scenes in shows such as “Once Upon a Time” (which she watches with me) and “Stranger Things” (which she watches with her dad). I try to be matter of fact with her, but it is hard to keep my reactions completely neutral. She knows we have different tastes. She knows I don’t understand her fascination. She also still likes innocuous shows and characters. She does not act out any behavior that would hurt anyone. I’m riding it out as a phase. Any suggestions?
A. think the phase-riding idea is the right response. I love that you watch one of the shows with her and her dad watches another with her so it does not become secretive because she knows you wouldn’t approve. The key is that she does not act out the darkness she finds fascinating. Often we become most intrigued by things that are far from our own nature.
I hope other parents take note. Get involved and do things with your kids, especially things you have doubts about or don’t particularly approve of. That way you can have discussions and find out what they see in it. You can certainly share your opinions and even show your outrage but do not lay them on your children thinking that they should feel or think the way you do. Our job is to trust our children so they learn to trust themselves. Only then will they feel confident.
Her fascination may die out or may lead to a creative outlet – filmmaker, novelist, etc. of the dark side of life. Ride the phase with her and just watch where it goes. You may end up being pleasantly surprised and very proud of where her interest leads.
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We punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.