We've all heard it before: "It's mine! Give it back!" No matter how old your child is, it seems there will always be something he's unwilling to share -- hills on which he would rather die than strike a deal with the other party. Teaching the art of compromise is a necessary step in preparing children for when they go out into the world on their own and have to find ways of getting what they want without angering those around them.
Playing with Blocks
Children of all ages can get into playing with blocks if the presentation is right, writes biological anthropologist Gwen Dewar in an article on "Social Skills Activities for Children and Teenagers: Ideas Inspired by Research" on the website Parenting Science. When you've got a group of 3-year-olds, it's as easy as dumping out a bunch of blocks in front of them and letting the magic happen. If two children reach for the yellow and squabble over it, use distraction and simple explanation to overcome the battle. As the children get a little older, you can show them how a red block might suit their plans just as well, or ask them to make a sacrifice this time in order to get what they want next time. By the time the kids are 5, try telling them to work it out themselves, only interceding when they cannot reach an agreement or emotions run high. Even through the teenage years, blocks work as a simple compromise activity -- one teen may be using an intricate system for a fortress and the other may need the round peg to complete her spaceship ... most likely to attack that very fortress.
For young children who are just learning about compromise, sharing bins or buckets can be a good tool. They contain goods that belong to all of the group, but each child can play with anything in there individually at any time, provided someone else isn't using it first. The bins become a physical representation of the abstract concept of sharing. The children can see that what is inside the bucket is communal, and eventually they learn that the same object, when in someone else's hands, belongs to that child at that time.
Sometimes, having to wait his turn is excruciating for a child, particularly when it involves a highly coveted toy or activity. An article offering "Tips to Encourage Taking Turns" on the Early Intervention Support website suggests using board games where emotions are not so tense. Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land work well for the preschool set, as the turns are short and the action is high. Keep talking all through the game-playing to hold your child's interest between turns.
Let's Make a Deal
If your children are vocal enough, encourage them to make a deal with each other whenever a fight starts to brew. This is traditional compromise at its best, but there's no reason it can't work for kids as well as adults. An article on the art of compromise in "It's My Life," the preteen section of the PBS Kids site, encourages parents to encourage compromise by offering children choices, then talking out each variation until the entire family agrees on what to do or where to go. For instance, if the kids want to get fast food but the parents were thinking about something more upscale, after a discussion, perhaps the family can settle on a family-fun dining environment that includes waitstaff, but excludes cloth napkins.