Whenever parents bring children together for play, you are likely to hear a lot of talk about sharing. If you happen to be the parent of the child who refuses to give up a toy when another child is tugging on it, you find yourself in a difficult position. Should you force your child to hand over a toy he's been enjoying because another child wants it? If you do, are you a mean parent? If you don't will the other adults see you as being a bad parent because you are not teaching your child to share?
Let's stop for a moment and picture a different scene:
It is 8 PM and you have settled down with your computer to catch up on your e-mail. There is a knock on the door and your neighbor, Carol, asks to borrow your computer to watch a DVD she has rented. You tell her, as much as you would like to help, you are using it now and she leaves without it. Your spouse comes into the room and says something like this: "What's wrong with you? Carol is your friend and you should share with her. Shame on you for being so selfish. Take the computer over to her right now and apologize for not giving it to her in the first place."
Would you drop everything and run next door to deliver the computer? How would you feel toward your spouse? Toward Carol? Would you now embrace the idea of sharing?
Perhaps you would feel better about giving up your computer if approached like this: "Sweetheart, you should have given the computer to Carole. She's one of your best friends and you wouldn't want to hurt her feelings would you? Good friends share. She may not want to be your friend anymore if you don't share with her. How about being a good neighbor and running on over there right now. Wouldn't you be proud of yourself if you took her the computer and apologized for hurting her feelings?"
Although either scenario is outright ridiculous when the imagined participants are adults, they are common happenings when children are the main characters.
Looking at sharing from a developmental viewpoint we come to understand how we will eventually see our child become a generous human being without our intrusive efforts at convincing him to share.
To bring us to this understanding, I will quote from the book, GUIDING YOUNG CHILDREN A Problem Solving Approach* by Eleanor Reynolds:
Children are, by nature, possessive, territorial, and egocentric. All this is a natural part of development.
They must first be established and feel secure in their own identities before being able to take the great leap toward empathy, consideration and generosity toward others...............................This is why insisting toddlers share their precious toys with friends is unrealistic and seems cruel to them.............................Sharing is a concept totally foreign and perplexing to infants and toddlers. Somewhere between three and four years of age, however, children who have been allowed total control of their belongings will begin to enjoy a limited amount of sharing. Again, this must be their own decision. If children have always had the right to say no to sharing, they will acquire the maturity and desire to say yes.
How can this knowledge help the parent on a playground watching her child struggling over a toy with another child? Should she let them fight it out on their own? Or should she "save face" with the other parents, take the toy away from her own child and give it to the playmate?
Although both options will be seen in action on every playground, we can follow a different approach and take the opportunity to give our child an experience with problem solving:
We go to the children, get down to their level, look into their eyes, smile and offer our support by saying something like, "It looks like two kids both want the same toy. Let's see if there's some other great toy to pick out so you will both have something to have fun with." Finding an equally appealing toy may solve their problem. Or you may need to go further by helping them to take turns. If there appears to be no solution to this particular conflict with this particular toy, moving them on to a different and enjoyable joint activity could be the answer. When you maintain a friendly, positive and helpful approach, using Active Listening without placing blame or asking questions about who did what and why, you are almost assured of a successful outcome. On the rare occasion when your attempts to facilitate a peaceful negotiation fail, you will serve your child well by taking him away from the conflict and involving him in a new activity without having forced him to share.
When children are treated with respect while growing up in an environment without punishments or rewards in which the natural drive toward cooperation has been free to flourish, inborn inclinations toward sharing will grow without prodding or adult coaching.
*GUIDING YOUNG CHILDREN
A Problem-Solving Approach by Eleanor Reynolds
Mayfield Publishing Company
1280 Villa Street
Mountain View, California 94041
Copyright 2001, 1996, 1990 by Eleanor Reynolds