I recently read an article on why a mom doesn’t make her child share.  Now, in some twisted way, I agree with the sentiment and I don’t always make my kids share. They have special things- a Thomas Train, a particular doll, or in the case of my 8 year old, a kindle fire- that they are never asked to share. But when it comes to other items toys in common areas, all courteous sharing rules apply. If it’s in your hand, no one can snatch it. If you leave it unattended, it becomes fair game. If you have exceeded five minutes on the trampoline, you swap out with someone waiting in line. Sharing -in all forms- is so important for a child’s development and I was very disappointed to read the article and the comments that followed it.

One of the “complaints” for lack of a better word, was that sharing taught children that they could demand and throw a fit and get what they want and this would carry into adulthood , with them thinking they are “owed” or able to demand whatever they see. I suppose if all you ever did as a parent was give your child what they screamed for, that might be a valid concern. But that is not what sharing is about. I am not at all suggesting you give in to the demands of tiny screaming people. We don’t in our home! In our home a sure way to get nowhere is to scream, yell, cry or demand.  But for littler kids, who have a harder time vocalizing, it’s OK to get down to their level and talk to them. Explain to them how screaming isn’t the right thing to do and if they want to talk about it, your ears are always ready to listen.

In some ways the author was right, sharing does carry into adulthood. But I think the picture she painted of demanding, selfish people was inaccurately presumed to be the result of sharing. Don’t get me wrong, raising a generation of uncompromising, selfish people is a very real possibility if all parents decide to stop teaching their children to share. When you teach your kid that it is ok to be ignore the feelings of their friends, and it’s ok to hoard their belongings, you are teaching your children objects are more important than people. You are telling them that how they feel is more important than the rest of the world. Just as importantly, you aren’t teaching them the valuable lessons that come with sharing.

When you don’t talk with your child about sharing, you are doing them and their friends a disservice. Sharing is a gateway to more important aspects of working in group dynamics. It opens the door for negotiations, communication, and problem solving, all very important aspects of a successful adult life. And it starts simple and small, with a pile of blocks, a blue airplane or a Barbie doll.

I am not saying that sharing is always the answer. Sometimes it’s just not the answer and that is fine. We have moments like that around our house too. The important things here are identifying their feelings, verbalizing them coherently and learning to play with others. This helps open the door for greater small group interactions later in life. They can’t begin to do this without parent involvement.

And that is possibly what galls me the most about the article. She recounts horror stories of screaming children and children who have the right to say no and implies the parents trying to appease their screaming preschooler are doing their kids a disservice when in reality, both sets of parents are doing their children a disservice. Both parents blame the other parent’s bad parenting.

Kids can’t learn if no one helps them! That means being involved with your child and helping them learn how to interact and socialize with other kids. Neither parent, in the scenarios outlined, taught their children valuable lessons. In fact, in both scenarios, it seems to me the children are not really taught anything useful  because at no point does the parent get down and explain or work with the kids. The children’s feelings are not identified and they are not given opportunities to work through their feelings. Instead, one child learns that life is unfair and the other learns that being selfish is the answer. I see no win in this, for the children, the parents, or society in the long run.

I get it-It’s a lot of work to stop what you are doing and help your child identify feelings and teach them how to express themselves to their friends. But that is parenting! Sharing is an essential foundation for greater lessons in life. It teaches children to think outside of themselves and look at other people as people. It teaches them that sometimes the most important thing isn’t being right, following the rules or the toy; the most important thing is friendship. And I can’t think of a better gift to give my children.

Still don’t think sharing is a good lesson?

I spent a good deal of my morning thinking about this- since I am a mom first- and came up with some of  sharing scenarios and how we typically handle them:

If my son is happily playing airplane with one airplane in a corner by himself and your kid is screaming he wants the plane, ignoring the very similar toys piled to the side I am not about to get involved; he can play with a different plane. I am not forcing my kid to switch planes just because another kid wants the blue one. Playing with a red plane will not hurt him at all. This is what I think of as a group play lesson- sometimes you aren’t first, you don’t get the blue plane and you have to settle for something else.  This is a perfectly acceptable lesson and chances are I wouldn’t make my kid share. I would explain to the other kid how they can pick up the red plane and join the fun.

But what if the blue plane belongs to the other kid; in that case, the owner of the toy can rescind their generosity at any time.  Yes, it feels unfair and is unpleasant, but the truth of the matter is if it’s not yours it can be taken from you at any time. This is what I think of as a property rights lesson and sometimes it is just “not fair”; that is ok, disappointment is a part of life and also an important part of growing up. Don’t worry- If this begins to occur often with one particular kid, then your child will eventually stop playing with this kid. No one wants to play with a selfish little monster who wont share his toys and invokes property rights every time your kid touches something. It gets old fast.

What if there is only one plane? Talk about it with the kids- let them know there is only one plane and explain to the toy holder how the other child feels, frustrated, left out and a little envious. Try to teach him/her empathy.  This is a great opportunity to teach kids how to share in a sneaky way- taking turns. Get a timer out, three minutes per kid until the kids lose interest or its time to clean up.  Most older kids get this without having to involve an adult- no one wants their friend feeling left out and unhappy.  Sometimes though, in a common play area some mom has decided not to teach her kid how to share and refuses to help negotiate a compromise. At this point, it’s a “hard life lesson” for the kid who doesn’t get the plane. Chances are, as your child grows up, they won’t want to play with that kid any more because that kid is selfish and unpleasant to play with.

Often times sharing evolves into a golden rule lesson;  your child learns how it feels when someone revokes their permission and the toy gets taken, your child – being human- doesn’t particularly enjoy this lesson and hopefully can learn how to empathize (with a little parental guidance) when kids are “sharing” his toys.  Maybe this lesson will help him not be the selfish kid no one wants to play with.

Now my kids are older and if my kid is the monster who isn’t sharing their one toy I follow the outline of discussion but leave ultimate power in their hands. If after discussing it, my child still wants the toy, I let him take it back or keep it. But I do let him know that it probably hurt his friend’s feelings and it wasn’t very nice of him or a good play experience for his friend. If the toy is that important to them, and they are uncompromising, then I let them choose not to share. I let them know I am dissapointed in their choice and I feel its unfair to their friend, but oftentimes at older ages, forcing them to share is not the right answer. Depending on the situation, I will suggest they put the toy away until their friend leaves. As they get older, its important to let them know that not sharing is allowed, but not nice. We try to teach them that rules aren’t always fair to everyone and we can follow the rules and get the toy but it might mean hurting a friend. Sometimes there is no great solution to the problem and that in and of itself is a lesson- for the kids and for me, The ultimate lesson behind sharing for us, is trying to teach my children to value their friendships more than their objects.


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