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Sharing is difficult for little kids.  If pressed to explain, adults can’t really explain it either.  When they yell at children to “share!” the subtext seems to be, “Stop having problems that I have to intervene with”.  Sharing seems to mean, “using the same materials with little conflict,” but I prefer the term “taking turns” when it comes to a favored toy, or something which 2 children cannot use simultaneously.  When teachers yell at kids to “share” a book, they can look at it together.  With a ball, they can play catch.  With a computer or a favorite truck, or a prized dolly, this is trickier.  In these cases, “take turns” is much more appropriate. 

With typical children you can help them learn to delay gratification AND ask for a turn.  My choice of phrase is, “When you’re done with it, can I have a turn?”  Unfortunately, most kids I work with cannot handle the length of that sentence nor the conditional nature of the meaning.  In that case, we simplify it to “My turn” or “Can I have a turn?” and then help the kid to do something else while he’s waiting.

My colleague has been working on “sharing” with a little boy who thinks all toys belong to him, all the time.  He hasn’t quite progressed to even “my turn” yet, but he definitely has been listening to his teacher’s pleas to “share”.  This week, my coworker observed him wrenching a toy quite forcefully from another child, screaming, “SHARE!”

He’s on his way.

I don’t want this to sound like Chicken Soup for the Early Interventionist’s Soul, so I won’t be starting this  post this way:

Compassion comes in all sizes and abilities.  (Excuse me while I go blarf.)

However, this is still a touching story, one that makes my heart sing (if I can say that without making you want to blarf as well…). 

Lunchtime on Mondays is challenging.  We have 2 little boys working on, among other communication goals, feeding.  I call it “feeding” as opposed to eating because it can be a painfully slow, clinical, trial-and-error process of getting one new food in a child’s mouth over the course of a year.  This is not the joy of eating, dining, cuisine, or social mealtime.  This is clinical feeding, a domain which falls under the auspices of speech therapy. 

In the case of one little boy, Allen, the feeding goal is to get him to eat anything at school.  He has such a limited repertoire of foods it’s no wonder we’re all so concerned with trying to help him experience food in a positive way.  He only eats Ramen noodles (beef flavor) and drinks Pepsi.  Maybe he eats baby applesauce puree.  And that’s at home.  That’s it, folks.  We’ve gone on home visits, tried to send him to an intensive feeding clinic, but we’re still supporting him to touch food with his fingertips.  That’s where we are today.  And that’s what we were doing at lunch.  Touching a carrot.  Holding a carrot in his hand for 5 seconds, while the tears flowed down his face, even as we praised him for doing hard things and being a big boy.

The other little  boy, Jacob, sitting around the corner, also has feeding concerns, because he’s on a special diet.  He eats more foods at home, and occasionally eats baby food puree at school.  I have only just begun to tap into this little guy’s potential.  In the beginning, he ignored all other humans.  He became very upset when we entered his space and tried to play with him.  Now he enjoys imitative games, silly tickling games, and peek-a-boo type games.  They’re all interactive, and he’s becoming a veritable social butterfly, especially at lunch.  Well, he had a lovely time with mashed bananas today, flirting with me as he tried to shove a banana-covered finger in my mouth.  He actually ate quite a bit of his baby food, and even the little carrot pieces I surreptitiously hid in his bananas.  On seeing the other child crying, Jacob looked intently at the falling tears, and remarked, “boo boo”.  This from a child whose limited expressive language abilities include imitating syllables, saying, “ah di” for “all done”, and reciting the ABCs. 

When Jacob finished his meal and had washed his hands and brushed his teeth, he went off into the classroom, intently searching for something.  He came back, grinning as he clutched his prize — a wadded up tissue — and approached Allen.  Allen then allowed Jacob to carefully blot his still-wet eyes and nose. 

These children do not score points on their language tests for empathy and compassion.  No one measures how kind or thoughtful they are.  It is a superior teacher who takes time to use words to praise children for their acts of humanity, instead of always scolding them for fighting.  It is nice to see that some of these children who are so impaired in other abilities, remain human in the most important ways.

It was a long day.  I saw 5 children for an hour each at 3 different sites, on a beautiful spring day when all I wanted to do was be outside.  I did get to go for a short walk with Dante’s class around the block.  Obstacles included such things as mud puddles, craters, loose concrete, and broken glass, but thankfully no condoms (used or new) or dime bags.  It’s not a terrible neighborhood, during daylight hours. 

Dante and Louis, the child I see after Dante, both attend a church basement daycare.  The staff really cares for the kids and has, on the whole, non-yelling, non-screaming, non-day-care-butt-wielding staff members.  They’re pretty hands-off, which means that when I go with the kids into the indoor “gym” (see basement of the church basement, formerly known as auditorium/multipurpose space with stage), I’m the only one interacting with kids, so they gravitate to me like nobody’s business.  My supervisory remarked, “No wonder they go to you; their teachers are all sitting in chairs socializing.”  Yes, teachers need a mental break.  But gross motor play is just just a wild, unruly play time for kids to get their wiggles out.  It’s also a valuable opportunity to teach turn-taking,  support language skills, and encourage cooperative play on many levels.  So I play with the kids.  The teachers like the kids, but they have no idea about developmental appropriateness.  This ranges from having 2.5 year olds do coloring pages of “I is for Iguana” where they’re allowed 1 crayon each and told to “color nicely”.  It also includes Ms. Sasha taking her 4 year olds on hour-and-a-half walks around the neighborhood, into the dollar store and drug store, to tire them out for their naps.  I have much work to do at this school.  But I digress. 

This afternoon, as I was cutting up kiwis for Louis’ class, two girls were playing the game little girls play where you rescind friendship for minor offenses, uninvite people to your non-existent Transformers tea parties, and stand there verbally mocking each other.  Charity had just told Betzaida that she couldn’t have any of her kiwi (which, of course, I was the one cutting and doling out to each child.)  Never mind that there were enough for each child to have one entire kiwi.  Never mind that prior to my peeling and cutting them, Louis had said, “Potatoes?  Dat’s nasty!  I don’t yike potatoes.”  Now that they saw that cool green hue, and heard my solid sales pitch, everyone wanted a piece of the action.  So Charity said her piece, and Betzeida responded with a solid, “You’re not my friend.  I hate you.”  Louis, remembering his Wednesday morning sing-along with Pastor John and his guitar, said, quite clearly,

“Jesus don’t yike dat.”

Damn straight Louis.  Rock on with your character education and guitar sing-alongs.  Rock on, Pastor John. 

The best part?   Louis’ speech goal says something about expressing himself in clear 3-5 word sentences to express needs or make comments.  What communicative act does moral reprimand fall under?