As your children start to get older, and begin to really interact with their little friends, so too comes the inevitable minefield that is ‘proper behaviour’ – most specifically sharing and playing nicely – and all the adult expectations that come along with it.
Sharing is one of the most challenging things I’ve come up against as a parent. Not because of my child’s behaviour, or really because of any other child’s behaviour actually. No, it’s more about managing other parental expectations of my child – and their belief that children should be made to share. I don’t think a child should be made to do anything. Especially when it feels wrong. “The truth is that toddlers don’t yet understand the concept of sharing, and our parental concerns make “share” a loaded word,” says the wonderful Janet Lansbury. “We tend to misuse it. We say “share,” but what we really mean is, “Give what you have to another child.””
I just don’t believe in forcing children to do things they simply can’t or don’t understand yet. Sharing is a complex concept for a lot of children (and plenty of adults!) – it means giving your favourite most beloved things, things that give you comfort, that make you feel happy or safe, that remind you of home, to someone else. Someone that does not love them as you do. It is watching something precious to you being dragged around a muddy garden by someone else. It is also, not knowing that it will eventually be returned to you. These are things that can be only be known and learnt after experiencing their return time and time again. A child cannot immediately be expected to give away something they want, with no explanation for why, or if it will ever be returned. Two, three and four year olds are still grappling with concepts of time and distance, it’s hard to understand that something might be temporary, might not last forever. To a three year old having to hand over a favourite toy is like a profound loss. How are they to know it will come back again? Why is this thing that makes them happy being taken away? Will they ever see it again? This must be learnt over time. It just can’t be forced on them without preamble.
There is also the reverse issue, that – having been expected to share all their things – having had this drummed into them, the word ‘Share’ repeated over and over – they then expect others to share their things too. The ‘sharing’ expectation becomes a serious issue. Their loose and misguided understanding of what ‘sharing’ really means leading to angry showdowns over a piece of Duplo. Cue a whole lot of yelling, two small pairs of hands clamped in a vice-like grip around something yellow and plastic, two tear-stained faces screaming: “Share!!!!!” at each other. As far I can see, that isn’t teaching them anything except some warped sense of entitlement and how to fall out really, really quickly. Placing an importance on sharing toys in one respect, causes issues in the other – you can’t insist to your child that they must share everything, only to then not be allowed to play with anyone else’s toys. It is, quite simply, not fair.
Perhaps it is simply better for children to make their own judgements, find their own way, guided by you, negotiating with their friends, trying new things out, learning how to exist harmoniously together.
There are as always, no easy answers, but there are some great practical tips in the below articles.
Share, Wait your Turn, Don’t Touch- Rules that Limit Learning: I’ve used some of Janet Lansbury’s writings before, she is such a great advocate of a more gentle approach and this article has some fantastic practical solutions for ‘playdate rules’. She is really keen that we let children work things out themselves, with our support. “When children are struggling over a toy, we move close to them for support and protection. We prevent hitting, pushing, pinching, biting or head-butting by blocking these actions with our hands or removing a child’s hand from another’s body. We reflect the children’s actions and feelings impartially. Magda Gerber termed this ‘sportscasting’, and this, along with our patience and acceptance of their feelings, is often all children need to find resolutions.”
Please don’t ask your child to share with mine: A great article that really echoes my feelings about the minefield that is dealing with adult discipline expectations over your own and that clearly explains the negative side of our sharing culture. “Forcing your child to share immediately when someone asks for their toy teaches them to hand over their belongings indiscriminately, even if they’re still using them, even if they’re engrossed in them, even if they’re busy learning. It interrupts their focus and concentration. It puts their needs second, instead of first, and everyone deserves to have their needs put first sometimes. Giving under duress isn’t the same as giving out of the desire to be generous, and it doesn’t help teach children why taking turns and being generous are virtues.”
Six Reasons Why I don’t Force my Children to Share: A lovely article that takes a different viewpoint, crucially the child’s, and offers a new way of thinking about sharing and how this is interpreted by children. It also has some great practical solutions for avoiding sharing nightmares, and how to deal with them when they arise. “Respect, autonomy and the basic rights of a child are important. Sharing is fantastic and generous. But only if a person chooses to do it. Since when did forcing a child to share become an accepted part of childrearing? To a child, forcing is forcing. Where’s the line drawn? Can adults also force children to do other things?”
Stop Trying To Control How Children Play: This brilliant article takes the sharing idea and extends it out to other aspects of play – rules, including other children, playing nicely – explaining how letting children work out play dramas is a great way for them to learn and practise important life skills. Intervening in childish disputes doesn’t give children the tools to overcome challenges themselves, it doesn’t teach them to work out a truce through discussion. “In minutes these children learned important life lessons – social emotional skills that are excruciatingly hard to try and teach children. Through this real life experience, they learned how to stand up for themselves, how to work through anger and frustration, and most importantly – they learned empathy. You can’t role-play empathy! Or lecture children to death on how important it is to include other children. Children need to learn these things through practice. LOTS of it!”