I remember a long time ago, when I didn’t have kids of my own and the whole idea of raising children seemed clear, simple and logical, one of my friends told me that she had read in a parenting magazine that it is not really necessary to make your child share. That, in some ways, demanding that your two year old share his toy car in the nursery is similar to demanding from an adult that they give you the keys to their real car. I remember that I was very surprised as it was contrary to everything that I had heard from my own parents and teachers since I was a toddler.
Over the years, I had forgotten all about this conversation and then one day as I was in the playground with my eldest son it sprang to mind. He was standing in the middle of the sandpit trying to hold on to his little toy truck while a slightly bigger boy was trying to take it off him.' The boy’s grandmother or nanny was telling my son all the usual things that we have all heard before: ‘sharing is caring’, ‘you need to share or no one will play with you’. She kept reaching for another car in the sandpit, trying to offer an exchange. However, for my son such an exchange was not acceptable and he just kept holding his truck ever tighter to his chest. I then realised that I was not entirely sure how to handle this situation. On the one hand, I didn’t want my child to grow into a selfish and greedy person; on the other, I saw how it was almost physically painful for him at that moment to part with that toy truck. It was HIS truck and he was not ready to share. I retrieved my son from the sandpit, said goodbyes to other parents and went home to research the topic.
Many years have passed since then, my younger boys have encountered similar situations and moved on and yet the information that I researched and put into practice is still relevant and helpful to this day. First of all, we are all different and the most generous parents, by some quirk of fate, may be ‘blessed’ with the greediest child. Secondly, the desire and the will to share is a skill that humans acquire with age and it is best taught by personal example. There is no point in expecting a three year old to be consistent in his sharing. Sometimes he will be willing to do so and then, at other times, he will keep tight hold of his little toy and nothing else will interest him. If you suggest an exchange and it seems that no other toy can replace the one that he clings to his chest, that the situation risks getting out of control and that there could be conflict then the best thing to do with a three year old is to try to distract him and to redirect his attention:
- Look, the swings are free now!!!
-Look, a caterpillar, let’s climb up this branch to get a better view.
Or, if that doesn’t work then, in a calm and friendly manner, separate the kids from each other. With older children, when you can’t distract or redirect them, you can remove the subject matter of the conflict and calmly state that it will be returned once they decide on a peaceful resolution. This works well at home when siblings are fighting over things.
What else can be done to develop that useful ‘sharing skill’? Here are some thoughts and ideas from positive discipline:
- Set an example and initiate sharing yourself. ‘I am eating a very tasty cake and I would love to share it with you. Here is a piece’. ‘This is my favourite pen. I am happy for you to draw with it and please return it to the pencil box when you finish’
- Have lots of things that are easy to share at home: drawing materials, board games, crafts, tools
- Recognise positive moments when your child is sharing. ‘Thank you for sharing your ice cream with me. I know that it is your favourite, vanilla’. ‘I know how much you care about this book. Thank you for giving it to me to read. I will return it when I finish’.
- Don’t make them share everything. Some things are personal and belong exclusively to your child. It may be a box or a shelf or some other item that is exclusively his and you respect that nothing of that can be touched or taken without his special permission. By respecting his boundaries you will teach him to respect the personal boundaries of others. This principle is generally very important. ‘We knock before we enter the bedroom’. ‘I am using this device at the moment. I can’t share it right now. You can wait or choose something else.’ ....
- If your child doesn’t want to share some specific things with his friends in school or at home then it is better to make sure that they are put away before friends visit and are not taken to school.
- Talk things through, explaining that we can share not only material stuff but also time, thoughts, feelings and emotions - all those things that are a very important part of human relationship. When we talk about our feelings, share impressions of the day, talk about fun and sad memories, we connect and become closer to each other. Set an example, get in first and invite your kid to share conversation.
- As always, it is important to remember that there should be no labelling - ‘you are selfish’, ‘bad boy’, ‘greedy girl’, ‘no one will be your friend’. Instead, articulate your feelings - ‘I am sad that you are fighting with your sister over this book...’
With time, the skill and understanding of the concept of sharing will become clearer and simpler to your child - most things belong to someone, not only material things can be shared, it is important to respect the personal borders and property of others ... and even if he remains the greediest little person on Earth he will generally know and will most likely use those skills and behavioural norms that were shown and explained to him by those adults who are significant in his life.