What does it mean to ‘teach your kids how to share’?
By Anjali Joshi
The first time it happened, it came as a bit of shock to me. I was left without words. I gripped my one-and-half-year-old’s hand and backed away steadily. In my mind, I was trying to compose an explanation as to what happened.
What had happened that left me so dumbfounded. It was just another afternoon at the neighbourhood toddler park. My son reached for an abandoned bright orange shovel a few feet away from him. Before his fingers touched the handle, a little girl pulled it away.
“Mine!” She cried.
“My turn, please?” My little boy looks at me as if seeking my approval. I smile, thrilled that he remembered his manners.
“No! Mine!” The little girl in the sandbox is persistent.
I try to distract my son with another sand toy, hoping he won’t pursue the coveted orange shovel. He doesn’t buy it.
“My turn, please?” He repeats himself, replacing the softness in his voice with frustration.
I look to the little girl’s mom, and back at the little girl. “Do you mind sharing your shovel with him?”
“No! Mine!” She screams even louder.
The little girl’s mother intervenes, “Would you like to share with the little boy, darling?”
Again, she repeats, “No! Mine!”
Up until this point, there is nothing unusual about this toddler interaction in the sandbox. Toddlers are infamous for their terrible-two tantrums, their reluctance to relinquish toys, and overall asshole-ish behaviour. Typically, that’s where parents step in. We use interactions with other children as teachable moments. We are, after all, teaching our little ones the rules of society – behaviours that are acceptable and those that are not.
“It is your toy, darling. You do not have to share it if you don’t want,” her mother says the words to her daughter but I feel as if she’s speaking to me.
I am floored.
I distract my son with some other sandbox toys, and this time he follows my lead. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that the orange shovel returns to its previously abandoned state. For some reason, this bothers me.
It’s this toddler sandbox incident that led me to do some research. Clearly, things had changed since I left the classroom 20 months ago. Was sharing no longer a universal toddler lesson?
PopSugar Mom, Beth W., was among the first to speak out about the “dangers” of sharing. According to her, teaching children that they can claim possession on any object they lay there on is not a lesson we want to impart.
She is not alone in expressing her concern.
As author Heike Larson puts it, “sharing is not in itself a virtue we should cultivate” as it teaches our children to ‘surrender’ on demand.
Using the terms “surrender” implies that they are being forced to take on a submissive role and give up ownership.
This parenting advice has left me baffled. As a new mom, I find myself reflecting on my own upbringing when looking for answers. When I was in school, you shared. You shared because your parents told you it was the right thing to do. And, that was that.
In retrospect, there was a bit of a mixed message when it came to sharing. I was encouraged to share my toys with others, but was discouraged to ask others to share their toys with me – a common practice among South Asian parents. It seems parents encouraged their own children to “be the bigger person” and held them to higher moral standards. Young minds that are beginning to understand social interactions hear: I should share my belongings, but shouldn’t expect others to do the same.
My gut feeling is to adapt a parenting style that is different than both the no-share policy and the only-I-share policy. As parents, I feel that we have the onerous task of building tomorrow’s future. I don’t want my son to grow up in a self-serving society that only always puts their own needs and wants ahead of others’. And, while my parents’ intent may have been to prepare me for the ruthless real world, I don’t agree with holding my own child to higher moral standards. As idealistic as it may be, I can’t help but feel that I should teach my child that we should expect greatness from ourselves as well as others.
The way I see it, all children very quickly learn the altruism that is inherent to human interactions: when I share my toys, others will share their toys with me. And, this altruism continues to reign in the adult world where the majority of our relationships, personal and otherwise, have a give-and-take component – the same altruism that was taught in the toddler sandbox.
When it comes to sharing, what parenting style appeals to you?
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Great topic! My daughter is 14 months old and is now interacting more often with other toddlers so I’m always curious how others handle sharing. I typically encourage my daughter to share but she’s too young to really understand why every toy is not hers. I basically take the toy out of her hand, give it to the other kid, and hand her something else or distract her. And if another kid doesn’t want to share his or her toy, I don’t mind. I guess I do hold her to a higher standard. Part of me understands the mother you talked about in this article saying that her daughter doesn’t have to share. Technically, it is her toy. As adults we don’t share our purses, jewelry, car, etc with other stranger adults. But the other part of me (and the main part) thinks that sharing is important because it teaches us about compassion and giving.