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.
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.
1. One does not have to share that which he/she owns. 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 toy with my son. I think all this does is teach the child who has the toy that nothing is truly yours and teaches my son that anything can be taken.
2. 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?
3. 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.
4. It’s healthy to not always get what you want. When my son 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.
5. Teach compassion through actions, not words. I avoid relying on lectures to get my son to behave. He’s only two and is still learning to communicate. 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 him the chance to learn for himself, my son is growing into a decent human being. On his on will, he often offers to share his toys or snacks with other children. He understands that generosity can be a great way to forge friendships.