Monday, April 21, 2014

Powerful Words: "Let's Make a Plan for Sharing"

Words are powerful.

As a parent my words hold the power to form and shape the thoughts, self-esteem, and habits of my children. With my words I can build them up and equip them with the tools for establishing healthy rhythms in their own lives or I can tear them down.

Before I had children I taught both preschool and kindergarten. What I learned in the classroom was how I phrased something could be the difference between success or failure. Say it one way and I'd be barely hanging onto control. Say it another way and all 20 six year olds would quietly and orderly complete a project. Words are powerful. With my words I can communicate with my children in a way that is simple for them to understand and empowers them to eventually be able to communicate effectively without my help.

This is the beginning of an occasional series called "Powerful Words." The posts in this series will focus on phrases I have found to be successful ways of communicating with my children. I thought I'd start the series off with one of my favorites.

Let me set the scene for you and see if you can relate.

There are two children, let's call them Sam and Timmy. Sam and Timmy are playing cars. There is a bucket full of cars however the yellow car is the best because, well, its yellow! As you guessed, both boys want the yellow car and will not settle for one of the other 50 cars that are in the bucket. They have both grabed hold of the car with a death grip and are yelling at each other to let go. You can tell if you don't step in, fists will start flying. 

Hahaha...can you tell I'm a mom of boys?! Moms of girls, just insert the appropriate toy and you'll get the idea.

So in this moment as a mom I have a couple of options in how I can communicate with my children. Let's take a look at these options and think through what's going on when I react that way.

Option #1: Jump in and take the toy away. Tell the boys that if they can't share, nobody is going to get the toy. 

So this can sound like a good and quick option to solving the sharing problem. The fighting stops and the toy that created the tension has been removed. However, if I am always removing the toy, I'm only stopping the problem. As a mom, I believe one of my primary roles is to teach and model healthy ways of interacting with the world and let's face it, sharing and problem-solving are important skills to have as we grow. Removing the toy does not teach either of these skills.

Option #2: Direct the sharing. Tell who will have the toy first and for how long.

With this option, we begin to teach a pattern of sharing but the sharing is dependent upon an adult telling them how to share. The child is not learning how to think through the problem and come up with a solution on there own. Instead they are learning to be dependent upon others for solutions. As a parent, it is important to me that my children learn how to be independent thinkers and know how to articulate the problem and the solution.

Option #3: "Make a plan for sharing."

In our house, when two people want the same thing, we say, "Let's make a plan for sharing." To make a plan for sharing, each person involved comes up with an idea on a fair way to share the object of desire. When we first started doing this, I almost always acted as mediator. I would give each person the opportunity to share their idea. I would then ask questions to help them think through whether this was a reasonable option. We quickly learned that each person having a toy for 5-7 minutes was a better option than 1-2 minutes or 600,000 minutes! As the mediator I put the power of coming up with the solution in the hands of my boys. Questions such as, "what do you think a good plan is?" or "how would you feel if your brother did not share?" help guide the problem-solving. As the mediator I encourage good suggestions and sometimes I let the bad suggestions play out because kids learn best from experience. I can then reference that experience and say, "remember what happened last time you guys decided each person got it for 300 minutes?" And since setting a timer is a common solution, each boy learned to work a timer that lives in their playroom or to come and ask me to set a timer on my phone.

Now, I wish I could tell you that we never have arguments over toys any more. We still do. But as I am consistent in teaching my kids the skills to "make a plan for sharing," they are coming to me less and less for help and more and more I hear, "let's make a plan." Sometimes they will come to me frustrated and I will ask, "Have you asked to make a plan to share?" Rather than me solving the problem, I am handing them a tool that will help them solve the problem themselves. I am building in them the foundation for being capable and effective problem-solvers later in life.
Hannah is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and owner of Foundations Parent and Life Coaching. She is passionate about working with parents and individuals who want to build the foundation for a thriving life. If you are interested in working with her on any parenting or life challenges, you can contact her at

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