We’ve all heard parents remind their children that “sharing is caring!” But have we ever stopped to think about what messages we’re sending our kids when we recite this mantra?
I take my 1-year-old to a baby gym class, where he tried to take a ball from a little girl’s hands this morning. There was a container filled with balls, but he wanted to play with that one. The girl wouldn’t give it to him. Her caregiver said, “You have to share!” The girl ignored her. I knelt to be at eye level with the babies. “Do you see how she’s holding tightly onto that ball and moving it away from you?” I asked my son. “She’s telling you ‘no.’ She’s showing you that she’s using that ball right now and that you may not take it from her.” The caregiver looked at me like I had 17 heads.
My son was sad, so I agreed that it is disappointing when we can’t have the toy we want right when we want it. I suggested we could wait until the little girl finished with that ball or find a different ball to play with. He chose the latter.
Why are we so quick to expect kids to give up what they have just because someone else wants it? When did that become the norm? Is that even “sharing?”
Imagine I had been at my own gym, working out on the treadmill. There was a line of treadmills, some empty, some occupied. Another adult came over and said they wanted to use the one I was using, so I had to “share.” Would I be expected to get off immediately? To choose a different one or go home?
Another day my son and I were at the children’s library. He picked up a board book and sat down to look at it. Another baby came over and tried to take it. The boy’s caregiver told him, “No, he’s using that. Come play with this.” The boy returned a couple of minutes later and tried to take it again.
The caregiver looked at me expectantly. I smiled. It was awkward. I knew she wanted me to take the book from my son, to tell him it was the other boy’s turn. But I won’t force my child to share with yours. Sorry, not sorry. I can’t do it. If my son was still looking at the book, wasn’t it still his turn? The caregiver picked up the boy and said, “Let’s go play over here; he has trouble sharing.”
Imagine I had been in the adult section. I chose a book from the shelf and sat down to read it. Another adult came over and said that I’d been reading it for a while and so I should “share.” Does that mean stop reading in the middle of the book and give it to someone else? Because they also want to read it?
I worry about what messages we send our babies and toddlers as they grow into schoolchildren and adults. If someone else wants something you have, you owe it to that person to give it up? Why? To be polite? Because their needs or wants are more important than yours?
I want my children to know they can stand up for themselves because they matter. Nobody can take anything from them without permission, and they can’t take from others without permission. It’s ok to say ‘no.’
I hope my children choose to share in a different sense of the word. I hope they choose kindness and generosity. But I’m ok if they don’t give in to impatience or aggression. I hope they and their peers can figure out how to communicate their desires more respectfully. Without our forcing them to “share.” Whatever that means.