In our house, we do not share.
Our culture has such different expectations for children’s worlds than adults’. The adult world is not filled with selfless souls who willingly share all their possessions all the time. Adults are allowed—even celebrated and encouraged—to possess physical objects that bring joy and to hold tightly to those objects. Imagine if the same expectation of sharing was placed on adults’ possessions as is placed on children’s.
“Barb, it’s Jim’s turn to use your Mercedes. You’ve been driving it for a while now.”
“I know you’re in the middle of that book, Bob, but Deb wants to read it. Can you give it to her please? Immediately?”
I do not insist that my children stop using a precious thing that is theirs, simply because another child has shown a desire for it. Not only are those things bringing them very real enjoyment in that moment, but they are also sparking creativity and decision-making and are causing all those awesome little brain neurons in their tiny brains to fire. As Fred Rogers famously said, “Play is often talked about as if were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” If my children are engrossed in something that is facilitating the survival skills and higher-level thinking that play encourages, then I will absolutely not expect them to stop.
All parents want their children to become generous people, but forcing them to engage in an unnatural behavior is not the way to foster that characteristic. On the contrary, as children are forced to part with their life’s prized possessions, the more closely they will guard them and the more fiercely they will defend them. I want the tiny humans I’m raising to grow into magnanimous and selfless adults, but forcibly removing items when they are mid-play is not the way to do that. I will not teach them that other people’s desires are universally more important than their own. They do not need to become doormats simply at the expense of perceived playgroup propriety.
No, I do not force my children to share. But I do encourage them to take turns.
When children aren’t forced to give up their toys immediately, but are allowed to finish the activity in which they are engaged, it becomes much easier for them to willingly share the item that brings them so much joy. Similarly, when a child must wait for their turn to play, they learn patience and self-restraint. And this is ultimately the place where the sharing must come from: from a child’s desire, not a parent’s insistence. Indeed, this is where so many of those desired behaviors are fostered. Not by a parent’s insistence that behaviors change, but rather by following the child’s lead and offering positive reinforcement.
So perhaps the narrative around sharing simply needs to be tweaked. Moved away from “share your favorite toy immediately!” to “Let’s let others have a chance when you’re through.” If we follow our children’s lead, imagine what that could spark in adults’ worlds.
“No, Jim, you can’t drive Barb’s Mercedes. Because it’s Barb’s. And you don’t know how to drive and will likely wrap it around the nearest telephone pole. But perhaps she’ll take you for a spin sometime!”
“Sorry, Deb, but Bob is really engrossed in that book and isn’t ready to put it down just yet. But maybe you can borrow it when she’s done. Or maybe you could read something else. Or go to the library.”