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Sharing, Turn Taking, and Fairness: A Montessori Perspective

I went back and forth between the title I chose for this post, and a similar one with the tagline, “One Montessorian’s Perspective. Ultimately I went with what you see above, but I want to emphasize that this is my view and is not necessarily shared by all Montessorians. I came to the conclusions I did through my training and my work with Montessori children, but others will have come to different conclusions through similar paths. That’s okay. This is not the Montessori view, but it is my Montessori-based view. Anyway, moving on…

Sharing freely

Why We Want our Children to Share

As parents, we all want our children to grow up to be fulfilled, active members of society in whatever way suits them best. None of us want to see our children struggle to make friends, and the pain of seeing our own child hurt others is second only to the pain of seeing them get hurt. It’s terrible.

Sharing and taking turns are very important topics among parents, I think, because we see them as indicators of our children’s social and emotional development. If she doesn’t share, she will be unkind and won’t have good friendships, we fear.  These are important skills, to be sure, but I believe we expect them of children far earlier than is age appropriate. I also believe that they come about spontaneously, but often we don’t recognize it because they don’t look like we think they should.

Social harmony was extremely important to Dr. Montessori, and is a value shared by most Montessorians. She believed very strongly that if we wanted a more peaceful world, we had to start with the children, and that it was the children who could lift us out of the cycle of war and hatred. This is not something we need to teach children directly, but rather a capacity that they already possess. She gives a great reminder in Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, saying,

What we all desire for ourselves, namely, not to be disturbed in our work, not to find hindrances to our efforts, to have good friends ready to help us in times of need, to see them rejoice with us, to be on terms of equality with them, to be able to confide and trust in them – this is what we need for happy companionship. In the same way children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their “innoncence” and of the greater possibilities of their future. What we desire, they desire also.

She goes on to remind us that they will imitate us, so

Let us treat them, therefore, with all the kindness which we would wish to help to develop in them…Kindness consists in interpreting the wishes of others, in conforming one’s self to them, and sacrificing, if need be, one’s own desire. This is the kindness which we must show towards children.

It may be helpful, then, to remember that our children want the very same things for themselves that we want for them. They want friendships, to share with others, to be treated with respect. Because of this, we do not need to force or coerce them into specific behaviors, but simply to model for them the same kindness we hope to see in them – something for which they have an even greater capacity than we do – and allow them to learn from and develop this same kindness in their own time.

Insisting on Sharing

Many adults, so concerned that their children grow up to be kind and considerate, will insist that they share their things with other children. What does this really teach them? I’m uncomfortable with this practice, especially when it comes to insisting that a child share his or her personal belongings. Not only do I hope that my child grow up with be willing to share with others, but I hope that she will learn to respect the property of others. When I insist that she share a favorite toy, I am showing a lack of respect for her things. If something truly belongs to her, she ought to have the right to choose who can use it and how.

When I insist that she share, I am also taking away from my child an opportunity to give from the heart herself. Many, many times I have observed an interaction between two very young children who wanted the same object and I have believed, wrongly, that things were about to turn ugly. Many times, I have intervened, but when I have restrained myself and trusted the children, I have noticed that they very often resolve the issue on their own. I have seen this even with pre-verbal infants and toddlers. One child may offer the desired toy to the other freely, or the other child may realize that his or her companion is either not ready or not willing to give up the toy, and move on. When one child moves on, no harm is done. When one child sees their friend’s interest in an object and chooses to share it with them, it’s a beautiful thing – a spontaneous and gentle act. Forced sharing comes from a sense of obligation, but genuine sharing is giving from the heart, and the more children engage in this type of giving, the more they will the feel the joy that comes with it and wish for more. I certainly do not want to raise a child who feels obligated to give of herself.

What about the child who gets what he or she wants after an adult insists that a friend share with them? What is this child learning? Over time, they may develop a sense of entitlement to others’ things. The phrases, “I’m telling!” and “You have to share!” come to mind. This child is robbed of an opportunity to receive a gift freely given, and instead learns to insist on getting their way – not conducive to harmonious friendships.

After much discussion over who should ride the horse...

As a teen, I worked with young children quite a bit. I led groups of them in vacation bible school, taught Sunday School, babysat, and nannied. I was around children all the time, and had never questioned the idea that it was my job to step in and mediate conflicts as they arose. I had no problem regulating the use of various toys and play equipment, to make sure everyone had a turn. Things had to be fair, after all.

It wasn’t until I started work in a Montessori school that my view on all of this began to change. I was taken aback when the teacher I assisted told me that she did not expect the children to share. I was even more surprised when she told me that she let them settle their own conflicts. This all seemed a bit crazy to me, and ran counter to the way I had always done things. It didn’t take long, however, for me to see that it actually worked.

In this classroom, the children handled their conflicts by using a tool known as The Peace Rose. The rose, a silk flower, sat in a vase in a corner of the room and any child was welcome to take it when they had a problem to resolve with another person. When approached with the peace rose, the other child (or adult) was meant to stop what they were doing, stand up, and listen. When the first child had said what they needed to say, they would give the rose to the other person, signaling their chance to respond. The rose was passed back and forth until the issue was resolved, at which time both children would hold its stem and say together, “We declare peace.” Of course it took some adult help as the children learned this process, and adults did need to step in and help with particularly sticky situations, but the vast majority of conflicts were handled with no adult intervention at all.

I was surprised to see how capable these children were of handling their own conflicts, but what struck me even more was how drastically different their solutions could be from what I would have come up with. Their sense of justice and fairness was completely different from mine.

Think about this: there are six apple slices and two children would like some. If an adult took charge of the situation, what would they likely suggest? That each child get three slices of apple – makes sense, right? It’s equal. When you’re dealing with children who have not developed one to one correspondence yet, or even if they have, have not learned to divide numbers in half, however, this solution makes far less sense.

It has been said, and I completely agree, that fairness does not mean giving each person the same thing, but giving each person what he or she needs. A likely child-developed solution to the apple problem might involve sitting and enjoying the apples together. One child might finish four slices in the same time that another eats only two, but does that really matter? In the end, the point is that children have solved their own conflict, and have enjoyed a snack together. If they’re satisfied with the outcome, whether or not we adults view it as fair simply is not relevant.

When we insist that young children take equal turns, or divide things equally, we rob them of a chance to negotiate or to use their own problem solving skills, and we’re projecting our own sense of fairness onto them. Relationships are strengthened and harmony increased when people have the opportunity to work through challenges and arrive at a peaceful solution together. Being forced to behave toward another person in one way or another is more likely to breed resentment than harmony.

Spontaneous kindness is the best kind.

So what do you do, then?

As Dr. Montessori’s words above remind us, the best thing we can do is model genuine kindness and generosity for our children. I also think it’s helpful to be honest when we don’t want to share something, and to help our children develop problem solving skills by talking through this with them.

When conflict over an item does arise between children, I do think it’s sometimes appropriate to step in and mediate, but I find that it’s most helpful if I simply offer guidance, leaving the final solution up to the children. When I feel inclined to step in, I try to stop and wait a bit longer, getting a better sense of the situation while giving the children a chance to  handle it themselves. Of course when I feel there’s a good chance someone might get hurt, I step in immediately, but often I find that my help is not needed at all.

I have had a Peace Rose on a shelf in Annabelle’s room since before she was born, and as she gets older I’ll introduce it to her in the hopes that it will be a useful tool for navigating difficult situations in our home and family.

Discussing feelings, I believe, is an important step on the road to developing the level of empathy that leads children to share freely. There are times when Annabelle wants to bring a really cool new thing with her to a play group or get together and I’m fairly certain she’ll be averse to the idea of anyone else touching it. I will sometimes talk with her about whether she’ll want to let other children touch her toy, too. Usually the answer is no, so we talk about how the other children might be disappointed and it will be hard for them to see something really cool and not be able to touch it. I’ll then ask something along the lines of, “Do you think we should leave it at home, or in the car, since it’s only for you to touch right now?” When she does refuse to share something with another child, I’ll point out how they seem to be feeling, “It looks like P is really upset because she wants to play with x, but you don’t want to share it.” When she does share willingly, I may say something like, “She looks so happy to have a turn!”

We talk often about sharing as a choice, and notice when someone else has something that they don’t want to share. Because Annabelle knows that she is not required to share her things, she is usually pretty understanding when another child asserts that same right. Of course she is still a toddler, and tears and anger do come, but I trust that she’ll get the hang of it. More and more frequently, I see her offering things to friends, happily declaring, “You do want to share!”

35 Responses to Sharing, Turn Taking, and Fairness: A Montessori Perspective

  • I really enjoyed this post. We have also introduced the words “this is special to me” so that my daughter can differentiate between things which she really never wants to left friends touch/play with and items which she’s just not ready to share at the moment. However, I’d love to hear your thoughts about siblings. My kids are 2 years apart and the age difference makes it hard to not feel that my daughter is always a bit stronger, a bit more agile, able to put things up high, etc. The problem is not her toys. She knows that she can always take an item she doesn’t want to share and climb onto our bed to keep it away from our very agile little guy (crawling at 5 months, climbing tables at 11 months). The real problem is when she wants something he has and she either grabs it, or uses language which is way over his head (She’ll very calmly say things like “Baby M, let’s trade. Baby M, I really want a turn” and then when that doesn’t work she’ll try to force something out of his hands). I am just not sure how to encourage nice sharing given their different levels of comprehension. The tools you are describing seem much more appropriate for a classroom setting where kids are closer in age.

    • melissa says:

      I love the “this is special to me” language. Thanks for sharing that! Since I have only one child of my own (for the next few months, anyway), all of my thoughts on siblings and sharing are philosophy, but I definitely have some. I’ll plan to do a follow-up post very soon with some of those, or just send you an email to dialogue if I don’t find I have enough material for full post. In the meantime, perhaps some readers with larger families will chime in and give us both a bit of advice from the trenches!

    • Melissa Vose says:

      If I can offer my experience, I would say that as long as my younger kids don’t mind being ‘forced’ to share, I will allow the toy to be taken but perhaps remind the older child to consider the younger one’s feelings. Often I will ask that the older child get another toy for the younger one to play with, as a ‘trade,’ which it sounds like your daughter already does.

      Once the baby is older and has more opinions on the subject, I spend more time on the floor, mitigating these types of situations. I have a timer for turn taking: both kids want the same toy and have not worked out a solution between them, so I suggest a five minute each type of idea; the timer is set for five minutes, and whoever has the toy will agree to give it up in five minutes. Or something like that. The timer is an amazing tool that takes the power struggle away from many situations, in my experience! Not with a five month old, but when they are older.
      Or I will remind my older child not to take the toy until words have been used. “Use your words to ask, not your hands,” and that encourages negotiation rather than overpowering. Often this requires me to be on the floor with my kids, and sometimes it requires that I use my own hands to help them not fight while we work out a solution.

      And as ever, distraction is an amazing technique. If my older child really wants a toy and a younger one doesn’t want to give it up, I ask the older one to help me with something, or suggest a story, or a change of scenery. Voila! No more conflict, and the baby wasn’t overpowered. This even still works with my nearly nine year old. =)

      I think the key is to remember that it is developmentally appropriate to simply take toys, or to grab, or to not want to share. What we need to do is facilitate safety and justice and just wait for them to be old enough to truly understand and appropriate generous behaviour, or any of the lessons we want to teach them, be it honesty, obedience, manners, etc. With my oldest two, I thought I had to ‘teach’ them and get them to obey me. But now with my younger two I see that they will learn it eventually, if I can support them through the process and wait for them to be ready to master it, when they are developmentally ready.
      Does that make sense? I guess I’m trying to say that grabbing from a baby brother is normal. Talk lots, get down on her level, but mainly just wait it out. She will eventually learn to share and with you close by to help, your younger one will be protected. I think that sibling power distribution can become unbalanced in favour of a stronger one, but only if you have distant or distracted parents, or a child with a behavioural problem or dysfunction, you know? If you remain involved and calm and model peaceful problem solving, your children will be balanced and fair and kind to each other.

      Wow, this turned into a book. =P And I’m by no means the expert or the final word on this topic…

      • melissa says:

        Thanks so much for the advice, Melissa! I was hoping we could get some parents with multiple children weighing in.

        “I think the key is to remember that it is developmentally appropriate to simply take toys, or to grab, or to not want to share.” – That is really an important point! It’s so easy to develop super high expectations based on the awesome people our children are, and forget that not only are they amazing, but they’re also only two, seven, or whatever age they may be. Impulse control takes time to develop! We should absolutely expect wonderful things from them, but also age-appropriate things.

  • Anna says:

    I find that very different approaches are needed depending on whether I am at home or at school. At school, we have some very difficult children who need to be guided through using the peace rose (or the rubber duck out in the garden!) every single time it is needed. Some days it is needed many times and there are times when I over-rule the other child who has brought out the rose and say that the child who is not coping today has used the rose too many times. I then ask the child to stay beside me until the rage has passed and then I simply tell him/her to think about what type of behaviour was used to make the other child want to use the peace rose. We talk it through but I have a few children who are so ego-centric that even at the age of 8 or 9 they are unable to see things from others points of view, or refuse to.

    At home, I often use the phrase “Fair is not what we are aiming for. What is needed?” This gets the waring children to articulate what it is about a situation they are labelling unfair and that is often enough to allow them to sort out a compromise themselves. Of course, there are still times when I send them to their rooms because everyone needs to simmer down. Including me. I send myself to my room sometimes too!

    • Melissa Vose says:

      I send myself to my room sometimes, too! lol, lovely place…

    • melissa says:

      Thanks for your comment, Anna. I am definitely finding that things that worked like a charm in school aren’t always applicable to the home setting. It’s amazing how much different parenting is from what I expected as a teacher!

  • Stefanie says:

    I’m sharing this immediately! Good one, Melissa!

  • teresa says:

    I completely agree with this! So much of the Montessori philosophy you share is the same as Waldorf. I do love the peace rose. I need to read more about that. What do you recommend as a good basic and yet overall book about this stuff?
    This line: “fairness does not mean giving each person the same thing, but giving each person what he or she needs.” is so profound, and such a different way of thinking about things.
    We had a playdate yesterday and I got to practice not intervening (a challenge for me).
    Wonderful post.

    • melissa says:

      There are definitely quite a few parallels between Montessori and Waldorf – mostly I think it comes down to respecting and trusting children and treating them as worthwhile individuals.

      As for a book, that’s a toughie! Anything by Montessori is fantastic, but her writing is primarily philosophy mixed with specifics on her methods, and none of the books cover everything. The Absorbent Mind is always recommended as a good first Montessori read, but I think the Discovery of the Child may be a better start. To Educate the Human Potential is lovely. You really can’t go wrong with any of her work.

      As for more contemporary, practical things, most of what I have read is geared toward parents of very young children. Outside of that, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius is a great primer on Montessori methods and philosophy and puts everything in the context of current research on child development. I have not read this one yet, as it’s new, but I have taken a workshop from the author on Montessori peace education, and she is a lovely woman, so I expect greatness. That one is on my list for sure!

  • Laura says:

    In my opinion you hit the nail on the head. Many thanks for this excellent post.

  • Jessica says:

    Love it!! So informative, you are a truly gifted writer. Upon reading this I immediately shared this with my husband. any advice on sharing and or conflict resolution when one is simply a young child copying merely out of adoration and the other is the older sibling who can’t stand it.
    (sigh) lol, in our home no one is made to share, but we remind if you chose not to share your toys, so and so may chose not to share theirs either. Feeling expression is also encouraged.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you, Jessica! Your reminder definitely makes sense.

      As for your question, do you mean that your daughter is mimicking her brother because she thinks he’s so cool, and he’s getting annoyed by the behavior? That’s a tough one, and probably depends on your kids! If it were me, I’d probably narrate what I saw happening: “It sounds like CJ is really annoyed/frustrated because he’s not wanting anyone to repeat his words/do what he’s doing, etc.” or “It looks like Jasey is really interested in what you’re doing and she wants to try it, too.” That sort of thing works well with Annabelle, and is a good starting point for figuring out a solution that will work well for her and whoever else is involved.

      One phrase I have used with Annabelle that she has really seemed to understand is that, “it looks like so-and-so needs a bit of space.” She has really latched onto this idea of everyone needing space sometimes, and not only seems to recognize it often, but also asserts the need for herself. Asking for a bit of space may help the annoyed sibling get a break from the copying without being mean. If you find a good solution, I’d love to hear it so I can file it away for later ;)

  • Melissa Vose says:

    Great post! I love how you have articulated this. I have thought for quite awhile that children should not be forced to share if they don’t want to. If no one is unhappy, like you say, for sure stepping in seems like an imposition of adult agendas/values and does not actually result in teaching the lesson we wish to teach. Just because we feel that a baby was playing with a toy that was taken, or there are six apple slices and two children and a two and four divide, does not mean that injusice has happened.
    I also like the idea that kids will come up with creative solutions we did not consider, and the peace rose idea is pretty intruiging. I might instil that one in my home!! That has lots of potential…

    I often suggest that ‘special toys’ or items my kids don’t wish to share or have touched by others be placed in a special spot, away from the general population of the house at the time. Ayden’s room is full of special lego creations and in fact it drives me nuts. They are forever falling down or getting bumped and then #1 I step on them or #2 he rants about lost or broken special lego creations. There has to be a limit to the special items; he has an entire book case full! Lol! But I try to respect his desire to keep his special items special and separate from his siblings and friends.

    Matthew is naturally the opposite. Things which are special today have no significance tomorrow, and there are few things he considers unsharable. (This also means he views others’ items as takable, because he has a naturally generous and gregarious spirit which others do not always share…)

    Riley and Amarys have learned to share and be generous very organically and both of them before they were verbal. A natural consequence of being the younger ones in a large family =)

    I think you are right, that as adults we can simply model and talk about the behaviour we are encouraging, and which sense of justice and fairness already exists in children. It is also fair to request that our own special things be respected (as long as there are not too many of those!! We also want to demostrate generosity) and that we be allowed space, too. This is a good reminder that parents are people, too, and a good way to develop empathy in kidlets, reminding them to consider our feelings. Brent’s mom is bad for allowing others to walk all over her boundaries and not consider her needs. Although she never complains or anything, it bothers me to watch her children and spouse walk over her and be inconsiderate of her feelings or her boundaries. But what can you do.

    I appreciate Anna’s example of children 8 and 9 years old having difficulty coming up with peacful solutions. My Matthew has so many brain things going on (learning difficulties, poor impulse control, etc) that he takes longer than other children to learn lessons like sharing and peaceful solution finding and general empathy. He has a strong sense of justice: for himself! But expanding that to others is hard for him. It can be hard to expect children with special needs to behave or develop the same way as other children do, and on the same timeline. Learning to share can take them longer, and look differently than with other children. Matthew likes to acquire power, which is normal in people, and I expect is exacerbated in him by the fact that he has less autonomy than is developmentally appropriate for his age (because he has difficulty with things like impulse control and safety awareness, etc). Withholding the act of sharing can be a mode of power acquisition. We see this with him at home and at school. We model respectful interactions but his brain is wired differently. Would that I knew THAT when I was young and judged other parents by the behaviour of their child… =P

    Anyways, excellent post. And I had a chance to comment! Hooray! (Brent thinks I’m working but I finished early, lol). I always read your posts because they are emailed to me, but these days I’ve been remiss as a commenter. Know I’m still a fan. xo

    • melissa says:

      Thanks so much for sharing, Melissa. Once again, I’m in awe of your ability to understand and recognize the unique needs of each of your children, and to willingly modify for your approach for each one. You’re an awesome mama, and I learn a lot from the way your respect your kids’ individual personalities.

      Your point about modeling is a great one, too. It’s wonderful to be an example of generosity for our children, but not at the expense of our own needs.

      Oh, and I should add that I have definitely become a terrible, awful commenter, so I totally understand if you only share your mama/woman wisdom here from time to time. I always appreciate it!

  • This is a great post! I share the same view as you on sharing. I remember when my children were smaller and having a daycare in the home brought about the talk of sharing everyday. I would make my oldest share until one day at the age of four she said to me but I share my table, and my house. It was a lightbulb moment for me. from that day on I never forced sharing on her. Guess what? She did share, but only when she wanted to. Also she appreciated whenever someone else shared with her. Thank you for allowing me to take a walk down memory lane, so I don’t forget this most valued way to respect children.

    • melissa says:

      I’m glad to hear your experience is more or less in line with these thoughts – it’s always nice to know I’m not totally crazy! ;) I love it when children give us those “lightbulb moments.” They have so much insight to give, even the youngest ones!

  • Amy says:

    Thank you for covering this topic- it’s certainly something that my husband and I have discussed a lot. And, reading the other great comments, it seems it’s a popular topic. I totally support the method you suggest, and I plan on using a similar method (but who knows how things will turn out??), but I know how difficult doing this sort of thing is at play groups and other social activities when the other parents want to immediately intervene. What has been your experience.
    I also find it sad when parents are clearly disappointed that their very young child doesn’t share. The parents sadly don’t understand the very egocentric nature of children this age. And, again, I find it a little awkward to share the knowledge as some parents (frankly, typically the ones that are less likely to know in the first place…) are offended by someone sounding like a smart-alic (how do you spell that??)
    Also, you commented reminded me of Kolhberg’s stages of moral development. A fascinating study! If you are not familiar with it, let me know- I debated doing a Science Friday on it because I really like it (instead I did Kohlberg’s dream research, which I found equally interesting, just less well known.)
    So, thank you as always for sparking my thoughts! Something this SAHM needs to stay sane!

    • melissa says:

      I have been really lucky in finding like-minded parents, but on the occasions when someone has stepped in, I have usually just let them handle it and talked it over with A later if it seemed to stick in her mind. I’m constantly fighting the urge to interfere with interfering adults, but that doesn’t seem to do much other than ruffle feathers anyway ;) now if someone is trying to tell A that she “has” to do something, I might jump in, addressing her instead of the other parent. Even if they’re a bit offended, other parents seem to respect everyone’s right to parent in their own way most of the time.

      I know I have read about Kohlberg’s stages of moral development before, but I am definitely not well versed. I would absolutely love to read a Science Friday on the topic! I always enjoy those, and learn something, too! I always appreciate the intellectual stimulation, too!

  • mindy says:

    i have been reading your blog for several months by now and you always seem to post about exactly what i am contemplating at the moment. we have certainly entered this arena with our 19 mo. old son. thank you for your thoughtfulness and thoroughness. it is great to find a shared wavelength even so far away! (i am in texas) thanks for the inspiration. always looking forward to hearing about what A is up to.

    • melissa says:

      Mindy, I’m so glad you took the time to say hello. That means a lot to me! It’s great to hear this topic was timely for you, too. Texas (Austin) is the last place I called home before we came here :) I love it!

  • mindy says:

    it is important to detail austin when mentioning texas. :) that is where i am. too bad our paths did not cross when you were here. best luck of luck in your new home with a new family member!

    • melissa says:

      You lucky lady! :) It’s a lovely place, and I’m sure we’ll be back. Perhaps our paths will cross yet!

  • I agree with you, that forcing children to share at a young age is not the best solution. Jesse hasn’t come to the realisation of what is his yet, but I’m sure the day will come when he is less than happy when someone decides to play with his toys, and I will definitely take your advice here on how to deal with it (or rather, let him deal with it :))

    • melissa says:

      I’m sure you’ll have some great advice and suggestions to share yourself when you get to that stage, Christine!

  • Rach says:

    This is brilliant! Looking forward to reading the comments too later. I do agree about leaving them sort it out but struggled with what to do when two children aren’t “equally matched”, or one is far more assertive than the other. As you say, it is appropriate to step in sometimes but to narrate and mediate what is happening, and prevent injury. I need to step back even more though I think. Could I ask what you would say if say another child took one of A’s things and A was upset. Would you just narrate what was happening.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you, Rach. Your question touches on a difficult issue. It is really challenging to decide when to intervene, and when to let children sort things out if we can see that one is taking advantage of the other. Most of the time, I think by narrating that we can help children move toward a reasonable solution, but sometimes this is more difficult, and I think we just have to take it situation by situation.

      It’s tough to see Annabelle being treated with disrespect, but I also want to show her that I trust her and know she’s capable of standing up for herself. I would hope I would sit back and assess the situation, intervening only if she were upset and needed my help. I definitely try to use narrating as the first step, rather than trying to solve the problem myself.

      Now that you mention it, it has definitely happened on more than one occasion that a friend of Annabelle’s has been over and A has gotten very upset when they took things out to play with – anything at all. On some days, it seems that she’s feeling very territorial and she doesn’t want to let another child touch anything. On these days, she screams and is really not in a position to negotiate with whoever the child may be. In these scenarios, depending on what the item was, I have stepped in before and talked to Annabelle, saying something along the lines of, “I can see that you’re really upset. You’re not wanting so-and-so to play with that, but she would like something fun to do, too. I bought that and put it on the shelf for you, but I also put it there for any of our friends who would like to try it.” I wouldn’t do this with something I knew was special to Annabelle, or something that someone had taken away from her, of course, but at times it’s more the idea of someone else touching *anything* than that she wants to protect some specific special thing, as far as I can tell anyway. I can’t say I’m confident that this is the best response, and when it comes down to it, it is me insisting on sharing. That’s not my ideal, but I’m also not okay with leaving the other child in a situation where they’re surrounded by toys and aren’t allowed to touch a single one.

      I guess that perfectly illustrates the fact that none of this is cut and dry. Different situations call for different approaches.

      • Rach says:

        Thanks so much Melissa. It is a tough one. B is standing up for herself more now, but up to a few weeks ago she just stood back and cried and cried when another child grabbed things from her or pushed her, which happened a lot, in fact all the time. She never grabbed or pushed back, or even struggled to hold onto whatever she was using, which was nice, but also made for a very uneven scenario. I did struggle with it as I didn’t want to encourage her to be “aggressive” (I know the other child wasn’t being aggressive but you know what I mean I hope) but neither did I want her to feel powerless. In the end I just narrated and told her she could say “no don’t push” or “no, I have it”, encouraged turn taking etc. But all the advice I read seemed to assume equality between the kids, so it was a bit of a learning curve. Phew, long reply, sorry!

        • melissa says:

          That sounds really difficult! It seems, from things you have written of late, that you found some wonderful ways to foster a healthy assertiveness in B for situations like that, which I’m sure was no easy task. The uneven situations are so tough to navigate, but they also give us a chance to work out where we can offer support, like you did with B by giving her words and strategies for handling conflicts.

  • I love your thoughtful post, Melissa! Even though a Montessori approach to sharing isn’t the typical approach in our culture, it’s amazing how well it works. As a Montessori teacher, I was always amazed at how few conflicts there were using Montessori conflict-resolution techniques. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and added it to my Montessori-Inspired Peace Education Activities at http://livingmontessorinow.com/2012/01/19/montessori-inspired-peace-education-activities/

    • melissa says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Deb! It is amazing to see how well things can work when we trust children to resolve their own problems. Thank you for sharing the post, too!

  • Lenore says:

    This is beautiful! My husband and I decided that we will implement this in our house so that we will model the Peace Rose (or some token but same idea) long before our 19-month-old twins are able to do this themselves.

    • melissa says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Lenore! I’m sure whatever approach you find feels comfortable will serve your family well. I’m sure sharing and taking turns will be big issues with twins!

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