IT'SOK_cover Final MayOne year ago (almost to the day), a friend and I were at a workshop together. She had just stopped at a bookstore and discovered It’s OK NOT to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker. How could I not instantly purchase my own copy with a title like that?? As soon as I could get my hands on it, I flew through the pages. Full of immensely practical strategies and thought-provoking chapters, this book has become one of my more highly recommended reads for parents and educators alike. I have used it as a read-along with a group of home providers, and I bring it along to almost every class I teach.

I could not be more pleased to see that these “renegade rules” are making it into popular parenting books. Some of the most intriguing and insightful rules Heather explores are,

“Only Punch Friends,” “Ban Chairs, Not Tag,” “You Can’t Play = A-OK,” and “Sex Ed Starts in Preschool.” She has chapters that help parents navigate children’s violent dramatic play, swearing, challenges on the playground, and so on. The book is so accessible and practical…I cannot say enough GOOD things about this book. Curious? You should be! The chapters are written to make you think critically about child development at every phase of a young child’s daily experience.

Heather also writes a wonderful blog with fabulous articles like this one on friendship or this one on homework. We have enjoyed a wonderfully rich email friendship, and I am grateful that she took the time to share with us! She is giving away a copy of her book along with this interview…details about the giveaway at the bottom.

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Emily: How do you help encourage the development of pro-social skills like sharing or taking-turns without requiring sharing or turn-taking?

Heather: When we force kids to share, it’s the adult sharing, not the child. Forced sharing actually makes kids worry and hoard items which delays development of generosity.

We share a birthday cake. We take turns with toys. The reason renegade sharing works (and is so relaxing for adults and fair to kids) is that it’s all about turn taking but without any clocks involved. What I mean by that is that kids get to keep a toy until they are truly “All Done.” A long turn is OK. So many adults say “5 minutes and then it’s Jesse’s turn” but being All Done doesn’t follow clock time. When a child is truly All Done, she drops the toy and is happy to give it to the next person. That’s when the child feels that golden rush of generosity. It’s a good feeling. One they’ll want to repeat.

Standing up for your right to keep playing with something you’re in the middle of using is a lesson in positive assertiveness. Waiting teaches great impulse control and emotional skills. These are great pro-social skills. This type of sharing promotes limit-setting, kindness, emotional control and awareness of others.

rule14_final No GirlsEmily: I was most interested in your two chapters on exclusionary behavior in young children. In it, you walk readers through the important development that children are experiencing that leads to phrases like, “No girls allowed!” or “You can’t play with me.” You talk about the importance of helping children on both sides of that experience learn skills, but you encourage parents and caregivers to avoid forcing kids to play, even though it goes against our instincts. Can you give an example of a helpful adult response when children exclude each other?

Heather: My favorite adult response is “Are you worried about Ben?” or “What will Ben do if he joins the game?”

This brings out kids’ fears. You’ll quickly get to the bottom of the real reason for rejection. Kids often have legitimate fears about a newcomer coming in. Here’s some typical answers: “He’ll hit me. – She’ll knock down my tower – He’ll growl at me – She’ll take the blue marble.” Respect kids and ask this question.

Sometimes kids have no hidden fear, they just want the chance to enjoy the company of a special friend for a while. That’s OK, too. “Samantha wants to play with Ava right now.”

Emily: Can you give some suggestions for sibling squabbles or sibling-like tensions between children who share days in the same preschool or daycare?

Heather: Give them space. Being together all the time can be stressful. Encourage kids to be by themselves sometimes and set dates with other kids, for example “I’ll play with you again after lunch.” Adults can also point out when old habits change so kids can see each other in a new light. Sometimes kids who are together all the time can get a reputation and it helps to make observations about new behavior or interests.

Emily: What was (is) your favorite picture book to read with your young children?

Heather: Oh goodness, you can’t expect an author to pick just one. I like classics. Christina Katerina and THE BOX (celebration of cardboard boxes and complexities of friendships), Mr. Gumpy’s Outing (good for younger kids)

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Heather Shumaker 2012_27 4x5 colorHeather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK NOT to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012) which was named one of the Best Parenting Books of 2012 by Parents magazine. She’s been featured in Huffington Post, New York Post, Parenting, Parents.com, Salon.com, and other outlets. She lives in Traverse City, MI with her family where she blogs at Starlighting Mama. You can learn more at www.heathershumker.com.

Would you like to win a copy of It’s OK NOT To Share? Leave a comment below and tell us about your child’s favorite toy (…that perhaps s/he would rather not share). If you don’t work directly with young ones, and still want a copy of this great book, tell me about your favorite childhood toy. Or just leave me a comment of any sort! 🙂 I will draw the winner on Friday, August 2 at 5pm PST.