"If I could say just one thing," says Sara Platz of the Little Red School House in Trumbull, Connecticut, "it would be that parents should teach their children how to put on their own coats." She is not wagging her finger in my face as she speaks. But she is speaking with the fervor of someone whose 25-plus years as a teacher have shown her that "children would have more time to learn, to play, if we didn't have to put on 14 coats a day."
You can use dramatic play to teach these skills, suggests Adrianne Liebman, director of the Tot Spot, the preschool in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, that my girls attend. Teach them to get dressed and undressed by playing mall -- go to a shoe store, a coat store, you get the idea.
"It's diffcult to teach sharing," says Trish Nodolski, director of the Cedarville Nursery School here in Pottstown. "When you teach a child a letter, you may have to go over it a couple of times and they get it. When you're teaching your child to share, you'll be repeating yourself 50 times, and the child still won't always share."
Not that sharing is a piece of cake for adults either. Paul Murphy, who teaches at Nonotuck Community School in Florence, Massachusetts, empathizes with children in his classroom who struggle with sharing. Even he can find himself getting frustrated if one of the kids wants to play with a block tower he's building. It's important for adults to model good sharing behavior, of course, but also to recognize that sometimes it's simply hard to share. "It's not that they don't understand it," he says. "It's just that they are so into what they're doing, they don't want to share."
Play groups are a natural place for children to practice sharing, say teachers, especially when parents join in. You needn't be heavy-handed about it. Just encourage kids to ask for toys rather than grab them. And keep your expectations low. Character building is a lifelong process, so don't stress out about not seeing results right away.
My little barbarians aren't quite where they need to be yet, social skills-wise, but there are times when they manage to be downright civil with each other. "Hannah share with Lizzie," Elizabeth recently demanded of her sister. "No," Hannah said. So Elizabeth smacked her. "That's not nice," I told Elizabeth. "What do you say?" She thought for a second and then: "May I please hit Hannah?"
It's a start