First off, let me clarify by saying I don’t tell my kids that sharing is bad. Quite the opposite. To the best of my ability, I teach them to be giving and thankful. However, the emotions behind the concept of sharing can be very different at times.
My mother shared an article with me once, where a mother explained why sharing was bad. I did not get much further than the title though. All our lives, from a very early age, we have been taught to share. Any school of thought contrary to that was completely foreign. I skimmed over the article and dismissed most of it. Not sharing is considered selfish. I don’t my kids to be selfish, and that is that.
One day, very unexpectedly, I realized I was not teaching my kids to share either. In fact, I had never taught them to share. What I was doing was something entirely different. I was teaching them self respect, consideration of others, and giving.
When we talk about teaching our kids to share, usually the scenario we are referring to is when both children want the same toy. Taking turns is a great tool in the mommy arsenal. We definitely want to encourage our kids to cooperate and work together. More often than not though, when fighting occurs, most of us default to forcing one or both children to give up said toy all together. Even if the toy actually belongs to one of them. This is where, unknowingly, I have always drawn the line.
Let me lay out an example of what I am talking about. My son is playing with his hot wheel cars. His sister really wants to play with his cars too. However he wants to be left alone and play by himself. This results in crying and fighting when brother refuses to “share” his cars.
Instead of forcing my son to let his sister play with him, hand over some or all of his cars, or having them put the cars away all together, I typically encourage them to play individually. I expect my son to be respectful. He needs to be polite and calm. Demanding his sister to leave, pushing, or being rude is not acceptable. In turn, my daughter needs to understand they are not her toys, and her brother will not always want to play with her. She needs to respect that, just as I expect her brother to respect her in this manner.
At the same time, I always encourage my son to let his sister play with him. I don’t talk about sharing, I usually say something along the lines that his sister just wants to spend time with him. Sometimes he does choose to let her play along. Other times he decides to stop playing cars all together and go play something else with his sister. Then there are times when he really just wants to be on his own, and I respect that and tell his sister to respect that as well.
Reacting this way may come naturally because I was an only child myself. I didn’t have to share my toys. After having three children of my own and watching them interact, I have noticed an important fact. Unless they are babies, fighting among siblings is very rarely about the actual toy involved. It’s about spending time with each other. One wants space, the other doesn’t. Or they both need space and don’t realize it.
I expect them to play well together and be respectful. If they do not, then they get separated. Simple as that. I’ve never made it about the toy. Because of this, I’ve noticed that they quickly developed a natural inclination to share and give. They want to play together, and more specifically they often want to play with what the other child has. In order to make this happen, they know they have to cooperate.
If my daughter is building a tower in a different way than my son envisioned, he has to decide if it’s worth trying to change it. Being disrespectful to his sister and her toys may result in mommy sending him to his own room. He looses both his play mate and the blocks. Like wise, my daughter may decide to default to her brother’s vision of the tower so they can continue to play together.
As adults, we would get pretty upset if some one just took our things with out asking, even if they intended to return it. If a third party forced us to let them take the item any way, even if we had good reasons not to do so, we would view this as wrong and unfair. Yet we often insist on this happening with our children. Especially in cases of an older child sharing with a younger one. I don’t think this helps teach them to be polite as much as we think it does. It does however teach them about entitlement verses ownership.
I’m not going to lie. There are days where they just can’t get along or figure things out on their own. I have to step in and help them find a solution, whether that be taking turns or finding something else to play. Some times the solution is to separate them. Then there are times they are so frustrated that they are being destructive to their own toys and in that case they do get taken away all together. Even then, it’s about respect, not about sharing.
For the most part though, they have learned that choosing to ask, give, and share on their own always works out better for them in the end. They know Mommy will default control of toys to the owner. They know that Mommy will separate them if they can not cooperate. They also know it’s a possibility that all toys will be put away if things get really out of hand. Even if I was not aware that I was doing it, I have never taught my children to share. I simply taught them to be respectful to one another.
Playing together has a whole new freedom in it. They enjoy sharing because they are choosing to do so, and not being forced. When friends come over it’s even more evident. They start handing over everything just because they want to play. By making play time about being respectful, and not about sharing, there is freedom in it for me as well. I know I’m teaching them to be decent people. Instead of harboring feelings of entitlement, they learn to respect others as well as themselves, and value the time they spend with one another.