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February 4, 2013

Coaching My Kids to Share

Image: Flickr/Petras Gagilas

Image: Flickr/Petras Gagilas

Yesterday, I gathered with the rest of the country and celebrated the ultimate in team competition, the Super Bowl; a wonderful game that featured some of the greatest athletes on the planet doing battle to bring home the grand prize of the Vince Lombardi trophy, as well as the honor of forever being called champion. How are these champions crowned year after year? Well, it has a lot to do with the way they are coached.
Now, please bear in mind that I have never played organized football, primarily due to the fact that I don’t like pain, but trust me, what I have to say on the subject is still valid. See, football is probably the greatest team sport there is for it requires a great deal of sharing. A quarterback’s job is to “share” the ball as many times as necessary to score a touchdown. The coach’s job is to help that quarterback be the best “sharer” he can be.
I like to think of myself as a coach. Not just in my occupation as a therapist, but in my role as a parent. Right now, I am raising a 4 year-old boy and a 3 year-old girl who, at times, seem to have the hardest time sharing. They are at the time in their respective lives when they believe that everything belongs to them. There are times when I feel like I’m stuck in the movie Finding Nemo with those birds that keep saying, “Mine, mine, mine mine…” Like any good coach I want to teach my “team” to share. More than that, I want my children to buy-in to  the idea.
Telling our kids that they need to share because it is the right thing to do doesn’t seem to cut it. It just leads to greater frustration for us, their coaches. It is often hard to help our kids see the need to share when they believe that they don’t need to. Remember, children, especially those under the age of five, believe that everything is theirs in the first place. 
So what would a great coach do? What does your inner John Madden tell you? How can you best communicate and teach the importance of this message? 
The following principles may help.
Be Patient
Successful coaches understand that teaching a philosophy takes time and a great deal of patience. Our children are not going to learn the lesson of sharing today, tomorrow or the next day, but in time they can.
Be Calm
Coaches that freak out every time a mistake occurs are those that soon burn out or flame out. As parents, we don’t have that option. Freaking out never leads to the type of respect that we want anyway, so just be calm in the process. Your calm presence will garner the respect that you will need to teach these very important lessons.
Be Present and Consistent

Pay attention to when your child isn’t sharing and calmly address it with them. It is important to realize that only addressing it some of the time doesn’t help you achieve what you want most – to teach your children the importance of sharing. How can they determine its importance if you only sparingly address it? Address it with your calm and not with your reactivity.
Be Demonstrative

Show your kids what sharing looks like, through your own generosity. Whether that means sharing your food with them or bringing home something special for your spouse, allow your children to see you living out what you are asking of them.
Also, when you see or hear of them actually sharing, recognize it. I’m not telling you to throw a party or anything, but a simple, “Wow, Bud, that was pretty generous,” might just go a long way.

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