Inside: Parents often struggle to teach their child how to share. There’s a reason why it’s such a struggle. Kids aren’t really wired to share their things. So to end sharing struggles once and for all, you only need one simple phrase. It will change everything.
We are expected from a very young age to share our stuff. We have to share our treasured toys. Share our crayons. Share our space. And share our parents’ attention.
But sharing sucks.
No really. It’s awful.
I’ve sat through enough Mommy and Me classes to see firsthand how sharing can get ugly.
Kid A has a toy. Kid B wants it. Now. So, the teacher sets a timer and when it goes off, Kid A has to relinquish the toy to Kid B. No questions asked.
Or Kid A is quietly playing with a toy. Kid B grabs the toy away. Kid A starts crying and is told by an adult that he needs to share his toy with Kid B. The toy stays firmly in the hands of Kid B while Kid A is lectured on why he needs to share the toy.
As a child I was–in my mind at least–always Kid A. I was forced to share all of my things, because all kids were forced to share their things.
And guess what? I still hate to share.
It’s kind of a running joke in my family how much I hate to share. I don’t like it when someone helps themselves to my French fries. Or finds my secret stash of Halloween candy. And it annoys me to no end when my husband “shares” my towel when he showers first.
Now don’t roll your eyes at me or judge me for being one of those parents. Sharing can be a lovely thing. It’s very generous to give what you have when you see others in need. I model my generosity to my children by offering our change to someone standing on the corner.
We lend our truck to friends who are moving. We share treasured books with people who haven’t read them yet. We share licks of our ice cream cones.
But the only way sharing stays a positive thing is when you’re not forced to share.
Children usually have their toy disputes settled by an authority figure who admonishes them to share.
They have to give up their stuff on command. Even if they had it first. Even if it was theirs. Even if they were right in the middle of playing with it.
I feel empathy for the kid who had the toy first. I feel empathy for the kid who desperately, right now, wants it (and is hysterically making their case be known).
But I step back and try not to get involved ever since I taught my kids two empowering phrases that encourages turn-taking, but not required sharing.
Ready? Here they are:
“Can I please have a turn when you’re done?”
And, “You can have a turn when I’m done.”
That’s it. So simple. But so powerful.
Turn taking eliminates my kids clinging to their prized possessions with the constant fear that I will take it away and arbitrarily give it to their sibling.
Once they are reassured that they, and they alone, decide when to give up their toy, their white knuckled grip on their favorite baby doll loosens. Their demeanor relaxes. The crazed I-will-never-let-it-go look fades.
And you know what? After being asked for a turn when they’re done, most kids pass their toy over within a few seconds or minutes. Because they know that they can ask for a turn. They will get it back. And they control the time line. Not an adult.
There are several reasons why this turn taking option has replaced forced sharing in our family.
First, for the kid who has to wait, delayed gratification is a necessary life lesson. Kids need to wait. It’s okay to wait. Patience really is a virtue.
Second, since it will be their decision to end their turn, kids will experience the joy and gratification that comes from wanting to share or take turns. Physically handing over your toy to a friend when you are ready feels uplifting, generous, and kind.
But most importantly, the child who is not forced to share will gain a sense of security and will feel in control.
Early childhood education teachers will tell you that before kids can share, they need to feel a sense of ownership.
Young children view their prized play food or baby doll as an extension of themselves. So if they’re forced to give it up before they’re ready, in their minds they are literally giving up a piece of themselves.
Children will get this sense of ownership as soon as they feel like they have had enough of the toy.
When they feel “full” they will willingly, and with a generous spirit, pass it to a friend.
This emotional fullness transfers to much more important areas of life than just sharing our toys.
The same need to have “enough” as children will manifest itself in adult life as well. As adults, we are able to share love, acceptance and tolerance if we ourselves have felt loved or accepted or tolerated enough. If we are “full” of love, it is easy to share it with others.
So if children are given the time to feel ownership of their physical possessions, they will be intrinsically motivated and emotionally ready as adults to share less tangible things.
Love. Acceptance. Tolerance.
They will know how good it feels to share what they have enough of.
So maybe, just maybe, if my kids are never forced to share their toys and are never required to hand over their treasures, sharing will stop being such a dreaded thing. They can leave our generation’s “baggage” of forced sharing at the door because it won’t ever become their baggage.
They’ll feel as if they have enough.
Enough toys. Enough love. Enough acceptance. Enough tolerance.
And that will then lay the foundation for them to share their love, acceptance and tolerance with the people around them.
And their French fries with me.
So what do you think? Could you go against society’s “rules” and teach your children they don’t have to share?
Did teaching turn taking and my magic phrase work for your family? I’d love to hear from you.