You have to share. Those words make me cringe just a little bit more every time I hear them or utter them myself. Although, I do have a problem with how kids are taught to share, I am not entirely against the concept. Sharing is a social skill that benefits all. Many awesome things, like Zipcar, run on the premise of taking turns. My problem is with how young children are taught to share.
Our intentions are good, however, I believe in establishing these generally accepted expectations for how kids should behave, we have done them a bit of a disservice. We are robbing them of autonomy, and failing to encourage true and meaningful kindness.
I propose a new set of rules that honor our children’s ability to figure things out on their own and respects their need to feel in control of their actions.
Kids should not be compelled to share their stuff
Seems like a simple concept. If a random person tried to play with your iPad, you would give him the stink eye. Yet, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard caregivers tell their children they must share their toys with my kids. I think all this does is teach the child who has the toy that nothing is truly yours and teaches my kids that anything can be taken. Yes, my kids will be upset, but I’d rather they learn a valuable lesson about disappointment than another child learn he has no control over his possessions.
Communal toys should be played with on a first come, first serve basis
Whether at the playground, library or museum, if a child is first to a free toy, she should be able to play with it for as long as she sees fit. She should not be compelled to give the toy to someone else just because he wants to play with it at the same time. I find that toddlers especially move quickly from one toy to the next, so there never is a long wait for a desired item. Consider this: as adults, we do things like make reservations to ensure we can eat at our favorite restaurants and are rightly upset when a celebrity is given our table. With that in mind, imagine you are a child who is first to his favorite toy at the playground, when five minutes later another kid comes in and goes right for that toy and you are forced to give it up. Sucks doesn’t it?
Let them work it out
We need to give children more credit and realize that they are capable of working things out themselves. Unless things start to get physical, it may be best to let the kids decide who plays with what.
It’s healthy to not always get what you want
When my oldest first started interacting with other children, he threw many tantrums over not getting to instantly play with what he wanted. He soon learned the value of patience and that good things are worth waiting for.
Teach compassion through actions, not words
When my children were younger, there was little point in lecturing them while they were still trying to communicate. And, even now that they are older, I find talking doesn’t always get my point across. Instead, I strive to be a good example. I say, “please” and “thank you,” I move aside when someone needs to pass my son and I when we are walking slowly, and I do my best to keep my cool in frustrating situations. I want to avoid being a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parent.
By giving them the chance to learn for themselves, my children, at least so far, are growing into decent human beings. They are becoming more patient, more compassionate, and yes, even better sharers. I am amazed about how much our kids can do when we step back and let them.