Whether or not to teach your child to share is a matter of great controversy.
Some may find this surprising, because sharing is good, right? Doesn’t it teach kids not to be selfish?
Eh, not so fast. Like practically every other aspect of modern parenting, the issue is much more complicated than it seems…
For example, let’s say your coworker Todd likes your watch. Or your car. Or house. How would you feel if your boss made you hand them over, just because it’s so nice to share?
We’d find the idea outrageous, yet we expect our kids to comply without question. It’s admittedly a bit of a double standard, and one that rewards any kid who demands another kid’s stuff. We wouldn’t be happy if the adult world worked this way.
So, there’s a certain logic to the idea that making kids share is misguided, and NOT making kids share happened to be the policy of a preschool our daughter Brontë used to attend. It seemed to work well enough for kids who were around a bunch of kids who were roughly their own ages.
And probably also for only children, which my husband John and I both were.
But… once we had another daughter, it didn’t seem to work anymore. We were completely unprepared for the new dynamic.
You see, Brontë was two when her little sister Bridget was born. Brontë understandibly faced her changing reality with some ambivalence: on the one hand, her baby sister was cute and seemed to like her.
On the other, Bridget was a blatant usurper of mommy and daddy’s love. Brontë would “accidentally” trip and scream whenever Bridget needed attention.
And if that wasn’t enough, Bridget also felt entitled to grab any toy in the house. Brontë was used to ALL toys being HER toys, so she found Bridget’s behavior absolutely unacceptable.
To make matters worse, around the same age that Bridget began crawling and grabbing anything she could get her hands on, Brontë also reached that apex age of insisting the entire world belonged to her.
Other parents will know exactly what I mean by this. There’s a phase, around age two, where a toddler’s chief motivations involve negating suggestions and declaring universal ownership.
Well, our kids both reached the possessive and grabby stages, all at once. John and I would watch Bridget grab something Brontë was holding, then hear Brontë scream “NO!'” and “MINE!” approximately six thousand times per day.
Bridget would then move onto some other object, which Brontë would also wrestle away from her while screaming “MINE!”
That was PURPLE BUNNY, for the love of all that’s holy…
This would go on and on until Bridget finally broke down in hysterical seizures.
Which makes sense, because Bridget could hardly speak a word of English at the time, let alone fathom concepts of ownership. And Brontë couldn’t accept that while she had heretofore held complete dominion over every object in her environment, she now had to hand them over to get chewed on. Even when it was purple bunny.
It wasn’t easy to reconcile, but they clearly had to learn to share.
Problem is, the concept of sharing is a tough one for toddlers to grasp.
Because what does sharing actually mean? When you share a cookie, you don’t get it back. When you share a toy, the other kid keeps it as long as they want, which could be forever.
If your kids are supposed to hand over toys whenever another kid wants it, then they will also feel entitled to grab any other kid’s toys. Even when that kid is some stranger at the park. I mean, they’ll just pick up some other kid’s Tonka truck and try to take it home, which is super awkward, because you just told them that maintaining the integrity of one’s personal property is unacceptable.
So… after much trial and error, this is what my husband and I figured out:
Kid’s thinking may not be especially nuanced, but they can usually grasp basic concepts of fairness.
Fairness includes the idea that if *you* get one, then *I* get one.
It also involves the idea that everyone should get the same thing, including a turn at playing with or participating in whatever desired object or activity is in question.
So, instead of telling them to “share,” which is really vague, it’s easier to tell kids to “wait their turn.”
It gives them clearer rules… You will wait patiently until the other kid is done with the object, then they will let you play with it without hassling you.
And in return, they won’t bug you for playing with it once they’re done, just as you won’t pitch a fit when they pick up something you’ve discarded.
This approach has worked sooooo much better for us. The kids understand these rules better and seem to respect them. It appeals to their inherent sense of fairness. They get the idea of “you were done with it, so now she gets to play with it.”
And weirdly, now they’ll patiently wait for a toy (sometimes finding something else to do) as long as they know they’ll be the next one in line.
I’m guessing that as kids get older, they’ll have an easier time distinguishing the difference between personal property and community objects that should be shared.
But for now, telling our kids to “wait their turn” has made life a while lot easier.
So, what do other parents think about teaching your kids to share?
Do you believe it’s a good idea? Do you believe it’s better to let kids work it out on their own?
What do you think?