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Teaching Kids to Share

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: After going out to dinner with my sister and her family, my seven-year-old and her cousins asked for quarters to get gumballs from the candy machine. My daughter got two blue gumballs. Her cousin really wanted a blue gumball, too. He offered to exchange two gumballs of different colors for one blue gumball, but she refused! I was embarrassed by her selfishness, but I didn't force her to trade her candy. How should I have handled this situation?

A: Although this clearly caused you some embarrassment, I would not condemn your daughter for her reluctance to trade one of her blue gumballs for a different one, regardless of her cousin's really wanting a blue-colored gumball very much. I ask parents to stay out of situations like this. No child was being physically or emotionally hurt. This was simply a case of a child wanting something that another child has and the other child not wanting to relinquish. Her cousin made his desires known, attempted to negotiate for what he wanted, and was turned down by your daughter. She should not be made to feel like a selfish, uncaring child because of this. It's her right to keep the gumballs she has without being made to feel selfish. Her cousin learned that you don't always get what you want, regardless of negotiating or hoping that grown-ups will intervene to help fulfill your desires.

When we allow kids to settle situations like these on their own, we give them lessons at many developmental levels. Instead of showing her that you disapprove of her behavior, I suggest a more casual, open-ended comment like, "I guess your cousin really wanted your blue gum ball. So, you worked it out that you didn't want to trade him for it?" This states facts objectively with no blame attached and gives her an opportunity to respond without feeling defensive.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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