Are you teaching your Toddler to share?
Why I don’t tell my kids to share.
As Moms, we want to raise our children to be respectful of others. But there’s something we do frequently that shows disrespect to our children. That thing is telling them to share.
Let’s think about it for a minute. If you’re a mom, you’ve seen this scenario: Little Junior is at the park with his mommy. You roll up with your precious little Jane who runs over to Junior because he’s playing in the sand and that sand looks so awesomely fun to a 2 year old. Junior’s mommy says to him, “Share your shovel, honey,” and Junior looks up, shovel in hand, slightly confused. Maybe he hands over the shovel, maybe he doesn’t. If he does, chances are good he gets praised for giving up his possession and his process at that moment. (Hmmm…pause…is that really a good thing…?) If he doesn’t, chances are equally good that his Mommy steps in and a meltdown occurs because he is made to give up his shovel.
At this point, I always feel sorry for Junior. There he was, completely engaged in imaginative play, entertaining himself, exploring his world…and Mommy told him to stop. Mommy told him that he needed to give up his possessions and what he was doing so that someone else could have that possession and do that thing instead. How does that make any sense? More importantly, how does that show Junior that you respect him and his things and his work?
Remember, Moms, in our role as parents, we aren’t just raising children. We are training young people to be grown up people and to act like grown-ups when the time comes. How would a similar scenario play out amongst grown-ups? Well, let’s take a look (or two).
You are at work, completely engrossed in the project you’ve been working on for hours. Your boss and a co-worker walk into your office. Boss says, “Hey, I know you’ve been working on that project all day. But Susie’s computer is broken, so I need you to share yours. Go ahead and let her have it. You can go back to what you were doing later.” How would that fly with you? Chances are good—no, actually chances are very great—that you would stare at your Boss, dumbfounded, trying to figure out if they were joking or not. Your Boss can’t seriously be disrespecting your time, your space, your process, and your work by asking you to give all that up, can they? Seriously?
Or, try this one: You’re meeting your friend for drinks after work (it’s not Susie from the office because you’re still pissed at her for taking over your computer and interrupting your work). There you sit, checking those all-important Facebook messages on your new iPhone when your BF walks up. She looks at your phone and says, “Hey, can I have that for a minute? I want to check my email, and I left my phone in the car.” You would no doubt look at her as if to say, “What the f—? No. Go get your own phone from your car. Oh, it’s okay. Trust me, I can wait two more minutes to order our food.” Inside, you’re thinking, “Girl, I just paid half my paycheck for this phone. Nobody’s touching it. Not ever!” In that moment of asking, did your BF communicate respect for you? Or did it feel more like a selfish assumption of hers based upon her own forgetfulness?
Neither of these scenarios would go over very well, would they? That’s because sharing is completely unrealistic, at best, and completely disrespectful in most cases.
Yet, if we don’t teach our kids how to share, what do we teach them? Obviously, as grown-ups, they can’t be “allowed” to hog everything around them, refusing to share anything with anyone. (Oh, but they absolutely could, if they chose to do so, being grown-ups and all, making their own decisions…but that’s another article on what to do when you realize you’ve raised a narcissist…)
Instead of telling our kids to share, let’s teach them how to negotiate. Not how to manipulate people or circumstances to get their way, but how to negotiate and create win-win situations for both parties involved in the exchange. Model for them this conversation, “Hey, Brother (or Sister), you’ve had that toy for a long time. What if you play with it five more times and then can I have a turn to play with it?” In that conversation, pick a number of times equal to the child’s age. It’s easy for them to grasp that number. Or, there’s this strategy: “Hey, Sister, I want to play with you. Can we trade for a few minutes? You can have the doll with the pink dress and I can have the doll with the purple dress. Momma can set the timer and then we can trade back again. Can we do that?” In both of these scenarios, we are teaching our children to ask for what they want (NOT demand it), and we are teaching them to make concessions in order to (a) not be a bully and (b) create a situation in which the other person doesn’t feel like they’ve lost. A win-win. Now, mind you, this works well with my 5 and 6 year old boys. It does not work so well with their 3 year old sister. But that tells me that she isn’t developmentally ready for negotiations when it comes to sharing. And that’s okay. It leads me to my second tip.
Instead of telling our kids to share, let’s teach them how to wait. Yep, I said it. Part of being a grown-up is waiting for things we want. It sucks, but that’s life. If we train young people to think that whatever they set their eyes on and desire, they will soon receive, how is that doing them—or the people around them—any good? We’re raising tyrants who believe that gratification should be instant, or close to instant. I don’t have to paint pictures of what that could look like when taken to the extreme. Read the news. Whoa–Don’t freak out on me! I’m not saying that telling your kids to share will turn them into thieves or rapists. Sheesh. I’m saying that it communicates an unrealistic expectation that desire = receiving. As a mature, responsible adult you know this isn’t true. It isn’t going to permanently crush your little one if you say to them, “Honey, I know you really want that toy your brother has. But he is playing happily with it and doesn’t want to negotiate. You will have to wait. I know that’s frustrating, but what can we do while you wait?” Your little one’s frustration may be very high over this whole waiting thing, but your job is to show them how to wait with grace and integrity.
There’s one more thing I do when it comes to sharing in our home. This is an absolute law: Anything a child receives for a special occasion (such as their birthday or Christmas) is theirs. Period. They do not have to share it. Kids, just like adults, need to know that some things belong solely to them, and they won’t be asked to give those things up. If they offer to share them, great. If not, too bad for the siblings or friends. Go get your own birthday presents or put this thing on your own Christmas wish list.
Surprisingly, I have found that when I hold to the third law and model the first two tactics of negotiation and learning to wait, my kids are actually more eager to share. When I respect their property and processes and don’t force the sharing, they are able to reach agreements that work for them. Isn’t that what I want them to do as grown-ups?
Angela Mosley is a non-fiction author and editor. She is also the mother of three children, 2 sons (6 yo & 5 yo) and 1 daughter (3 yo). When she isn’t busy keeping three small humans alive, she is either writing to complete her first three books in the Deeper Discussions series, to be released Fall 2016, or editing to help other entrepreneurs release their messages in a more powerful and distinctive way. Angela believes that words have the power to change our stories, and that every person’s story needs to be told. Learn more and visit her website!