I’ve been think about sharing a lot lately, more precisely, I’ve been processing a few varying perspectives on teaching children to share.
Here are the two articles that began my plummet down the rabbit hole.
As my daughter is charging full-speed into the ‘mine’ phase I’m frequently confronted with opportunities to parent about sharing. Mostly when it comes to mothering I go with my gut and say ‘screw the books and all those experts’. I started out this journey into parenting (I’m sure like many of us) reading all the books, the ‘top ten mistakes parents make’, ‘how to avoid common sleep problems’ blah blah blah – until I resolved that it’s all mostly BS and that you gotta do what feels right to you, period. But, as I exit the all ‘I need to do is keep her alive’, phase and enter into this whole new realm of teaching morals, values, behaviors…humanity..teaching humanity. HOLY SHITAKES, that is a big friggen job! Hopefully you get my gist digression aside, my job description has once again changed, just as I thought I was starting to get the hang of it. Now I’m the mother of a toddler and parenting is an entirely different ball game. Back to the books, or in this case the blogs?
Good thing I have my own blog now and I can chime in with my own expert opinion. Not so much. As you know this blog is about progression, personal development about processing stimuli in an emotionally intelligent manner. So, let me get processing. No conclusions here, just one mom trying to sort through her own thoughts.
What are these view points and why do they have me so conflicted? (I love writing my thoughts down because you can have bold headers and numbered lists. You can even write yourself back in another color, like in annoying office email threads. You cant do that in your brain and it is so very helpful)
It seems to me that there are two schools of thought.
1st Viewpoint- One perspective is that we should not actively force children to share for the following reasons:
a) it subversively teaches them that they can have whatever they want just because they want it, or visa versa , that they need to give up THEIR belongings to others just because another wants it. – Not sure this has any legs…
b) telling a child ”you mustn’t rip something out of someone else hand’ while simultaneously prying said object out of their hand sends undeniably mixed messages between word and deed. – YES! This makes sense to me
c) working out social conflicts including how to share and peacefully get on with others is just part of growing up and we need to leave them to develop these skills without being too overbearing. – Yes, to some extent at the same time the ‘no mandatory sharing’ policy discussed by Beth W. in Should You Teach Kids to Share? is indeed a parental interference, just at a policy level. As Daddy Blogger points out in In Defense of Sharing: Response to “Why I Don’t Make My Son Share”, we should be encouraging our children to ask for what they want, encouraging them to learn how to negotiate amongst each other, and then of course be helping them learn how to deal with disappointment in a constructive manner.
I also don’t think that the act of taking a toy from another child is always malicious. Sometimes it is an immature attempt to interact, and policies that discourage interaction discourage development. It appears to me that when children yank toys away from others they are not always trying to stow all the toys away like greedy little ogres, sometimes they genuinely want to play with the other child and just don’t know how to approach the situation. This is where parents can and should help guide them.
d) Children should be empowered to make willful choices (‘good choices’) and not simply be forced to do what is ‘right’ by adults as the latter does not actually teach them anything. –This is tricky. I believe our kids learn largely by example, if we exemplify the behaviors we want them to model, they will do just that. Still, there are always opportunities to teach them more appropriate coping methods.
I see how my daughter mimics my actions around the house. She closes cupboards and drawers after opening them, she sets her cup on the table or counter when she’s done, even the way she bathes herself, these are all things she has simply learned from observation. Sharing to an extent will be learned in the same way. If you rip things out of your children’s hands or hold things up high so they cant grab them from you, they will model this behavior.
When it comes to teaching them to have to cope with sharing we can empower them to make positive choice by asking questions, ‘would you like your friend to stay and play longer? Then we need to be kind and let her play with some of the toys also, otherwise she will want to go home and play with her own toys.’ Would you like to pick out a toy for her to play with?’ But there are also times when we simply state how things are done, ‘we do not take things out of other people’s hands. Please stop and give that back.’ Or, if one particular toy is creating too much friction, we might just put that toy away all together and say, ‘if we cant play with it together we will just put it away for another time.’ We as parents make these kinds of statements all the time and of course this also teaches them! Sometimes intervention is necessary and we are empowering them to handle future situations in the way we have just exemplified. It’s one thing to hover over your kid at all times making sure they don’t get into any altercations and its another to take meaningful opportunities to teach them positive coping tactics.
2nd Viewpoint – The obvious flip-side is that we should actively parent our kids into sharing for all the standard societal reasons. I don’t feel I need to elaborate on this philosophy as it is pretty much the status quo.
The truth is when you look at these seemingly opposing perspectives rationally there is no reason to apply them in polarity, but rather use them in conjunction when and where appropriate/
It comes down to questions like, do you force a child to hand over a toy when another child wants it? How do you reprimand snatching toys from others? How do you deal with a child that is guarding all the toys even though they are not playing with them? What happens when you host guests for a play date and your child is not letting other children touch any of the toys? Every circumstance is different and requires a different approach. Philosophies aside, it comes down to how we handle these real-life, daily occurrences and I truly doubt any parent always uses the same tactics or one singular approach ALL THE TIME. However, when I read about it online, less from bloggers themselves but more from the subsequent comment threads, it seems like people do seriously subscribe to some singular ideologies and feel very strongly about never diverging…My faith in humanity is going to force me to make two sweeping assumptions 1) the bloggers that write these articles are only writing contentious headlines in order to boost search listings, discussions/engagement and ultimately readership 2) all the people vehemently commenting about linear values and broad-sense ideologies are indeed, NOT parents. Before becoming a parent I had a lot of concrete notions about how things ‘should’ be done. Most of that goes out of the window once you have a child.
Taking that all in – How do I feel about teaching sharing because obviously this is triggering an emotional response. Let me dig deeper…
I do feel that teaching sharing is important. At the same time it is also important to teach my daughter to respect and honor her feelings and judgement. No, she does not HAVE to give something up just because someone else wants it. There are certain things she doesn’t not ever have to share, things that are entirely hers to protect – her body as an extreme example, perhaps a special toy or book. I also have things that I don’t particularly want to share, while in general I will share most things including my car and clothes, but maybe if I just bought a dress and have not yet worn it I would prefer not to share it, or maybe my wedding band…that I don’t really want to lend out, and that is OK. It’s also OK for her not to want to share EVERYTHING. But it is important that she shares some things. This is an important distinction.
When it comes to possessions my thoughts and gut instincts do get very cloudy. I am feeling my own upbringing and my own parents’ beliefs on sharing and property speaking through me so trying to find my own voice and clarity is proving difficult. This is, I suppose, where divergent view points come up, and to be honest I think this draws a much deeper parallel into political and social philosophy…which I won’t go into now. wahahaha TEASE!
Gratitude and Possessions
My perspective on possessions is very blurry. My parents were ‘hippie-ish’ socialists and I was taught not to give too much value to possessions. Later in my own spiritual pursuits I have felt a need to dissociate with material possessions, to work towards letting go of all this worldly wanting. I do, in my core believe that much suffering is caused by wanting and not getting and that by taming our wants we can limit our own suffering. I practice gratitude for this reason precisely, to take the lens off of what I do not have and put it on what I do have, which in truth is a lot. This is definitely a lesson I would like to impart to my daughter. That said, intense desire and wanting is completely normal and learning to observe it rather than being controlled by it is part of our spiritual evolution. I can not expect her to be an expert at 2, she is driven by instinct and not rational. That is what growing up is, learning to separate the two.
What DO I want to teach her about sharing?
I want to develop in her a character of kindness and compassion. I want her to feel that possessions are abundant and that sharing brings joy as it feels good to see someone else smile as well as to have friends. At the same time I don’t want her to feel she HAS to share in order to have friends. I do not want her later in life to get run over and used, to feel she must share what she has in order to keep or make friends. I want to develop in her the ability to clearly see the difference between those that are genuine and worth sharing with and those that only want to use you and with whom you should limit sharing. GEEZ, That’s a tall order! How am I going to teach her all that?
I want her to feel OK with letting go of possessions, for her to know that THINGS come and go and that we do not need to have emotional attachment to small property, this is a hard lesson even for adults but perhaps enabling sharing at a young age helps to build this awareness… perhaps not. I truly cannot say. But I can say that occasionally having something you really want ripped out of your hands, subsequently kicking and screaming about it and feeling dreadful and then feeling fine and discovering that there are other equally awesome things to play with, is also a good lesson and one that I’m happy for some toy-yanking child to teach my daughter. I will not force that child to return the toy, but teach me daughter that the suffering is short and that there is more fun to be had.
Have I come any conclusions on this? No, not really. But I do feel much better about it all and can read articles and annoying comments without getting my gills all in a twist because I am confident in my choices as a parent and a mother.
Ultimately as Beth W queries at the end of her post Should You Teach Kids to Share?
“How do you feel about the concept of sharing where young children are concerned? I know you likely don’t have a “policy,” as I sure didn’t before the preschool told me they had one. Now I notice a variety of different takes on the subject from the parents I see around. Makes me wonder if we need to be talking about this issue a little bit more.
that’s what it comes down to, taking some real conscious time to process all our ideas and ideals, to rationalize those against our upbringing and what our parents inadvertently ingrained in us, and come up with our own mindset for sharing. Prior to seeing these articles pop up on my FB news feed I had never given any thought to how I handled the sharing issue, I did what felt right at the time. I still think that is the best policy, but if you take some time to understand where you are coming from and what you want in the end, what feels right might change and that is beautiful because it’s called growth!
After taking a step back and looking at what I ultimately want for my daughter I can see more positive ways to handle the daily skirmishes. Obviously most of my hopes for her character fall into the uncontrollable category, I will continue to love her whoever she becomes, but if there are ways that my behavior now can help instill in her the same courage, confidence and kindness that my mother managed to pass to me, then I will indeed take up those actions.