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Shared Play Technique

As children grow and develop, one of the most important phases is the grounding of the “me” vs. “we” mindset. As a teacher and counsellor, I know the difficulties that can be caused when this mindset develops and is challenged. I’m still told of times that my sister Evie and I engaged in a lot of squabbling and fighting during playtimes. Whilst it is impossible for siblings to get on all the time, there are a few useful techniques to support children to develop their “we” mindset – one of which I will share today.

The Shared Play Technique

This technique encourages teamwork, good (productive) communication and encourages children to work towards a common goal – helping ground the idea that helping everyone win means that the individual can win too. This is a crucial first step in the development of the “we” mindset.

Nearly all children will default to a “King of the Castle” phase at some point (the “me” mindset). This means they will dictate who plays with which toy and when, as well as restricting access to certain toys and constantly fighting to be the centre of attention. This is a normal developmental phase but we need to encourage development beyond this, towards the “we”. Developing skills in sharing and playing cooperatively is an important part of their childhood development.

1. Teach and model sharing skills throughout the day. You can start with simple activities like borrowing crayons, sharing food, taking turns with the TV or the conversation topic, etc. If this is the first step, make sure to keep things small and simple – showing the child that they don’t have to give up everything in order to share.

2. Play games that work cooperatively, rather than competitively. Any activity where the success is shared among everyone playing should work here. These can be as simple as aiming for a record in the number of successful throws & catches of a ball, to challenging them to build towers out of spaghetti to a certain height, to games involving team solving like treasure hunts, etc. Having a co-operative game allows children to channel their desire to win into a more healthy place – losing can still happen but everyone shares the disappointment.

When you play these sorts of games, you may need to act as a moderator to avoid ‘chief player’ syndrome where one individual bosses everyone around. Ensuring that everyone contributes fairly and follows the rules should avoid accusations if things don’t go as planned!

3. Allow children to ‘ring-fence’ certain items/activities. It’s important to let children keep some things just for themselves or for certain people. Forcing a child to share everything with anybody won’t help their development and can often end up undermining it. We all have certain things we like to keep special, so you can support them and may need to hide certain toys away on a play date, etc.

4. Providing children with individual time is also important within the family unit, especially in larger and/or blended families. Sharing a story together, going for a walk, or painting a picture together can really help your relationship to grow. Try to keep these activities well defined and make sure that you both have a say in what they are and when they are done.

It’s important to remember that every child is unique and developments won’t all happen at the same time. Some children will need to keep re-visiting and re-learning the same things as they develop. Having a children’s counsellor come alongside and support you as you help your children can often benefit the children and the relationship between you. Feel free to get in touch to discuss how Kate can support you.

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