This psychotherapist says we shouldn't be teaching kids to share
"When children are not forced to share, the end result is a child who learns patience and empathy"
We've all been there — you're visiting friends or hanging out with other kids at the park, and your kid does NOT want to share their stuff.
We do the embarrassed "he's not usually like this" apology, but all parents get it. Kids, at least at first, don't want to share their stuff.
I heard a great analogy for how uncomfortable it feels to give your precious favourite toys to another child, recently. Imagine you're sitting in a bar with a perfect pint of the black stuff, or a perfectly chilled glass of wine. Your friend arrives and joins you at the table, which prompts the waiter to ask what she's having. How would it feel if she replied, 'no thanks, I'll just share this one'. while eyeing up your drink?
It's an interesting thought, isn't it? It's something we're not used to sharing and doing so would feel really alien to us. I always remember this when my child, or anyone else's, is reluctant to give up the goods. They're just telling the other kid to get their own pint.
Teaching children to play together is a huge part of early childhood, and we all assume that teaching our kids to share goes hand in hand with that.
But experts want us to stop and think, what is the goal of teaching our kids to share? Do we think it will ensure they grow up to be generous adults? Are we just blindly following social norms, while also making sure our kids don't make holy shows of us?
For me, it's a little from column A and a little from column B, if we're being totally honest here.
If sharing feels so uncomfortable for little ones, should we ignore that and make them do it anyway in order for them to learn? Let's see what the experts have to say.
According to Dr. Laura Markham, in their early formative years, children are still learning how to meet their own needs. The concept of sharing is too complex for them to understand, as they've not yet developed empathy and therefore can't see things from another child's perspective.
Dr. Markham says: "Forced sharing actually teaches some of the wrong lessons, like crying loudly will help a child get what they want, that parents are in charge of who gets what and when they get it and that children should always interrupt what they are working on to give something to another child just because the other child asks."
So how do we approach sharing? These are Dr. Markham's tips:
Provide the tools
Instead of forcing their children to share, children need to be given the tools to handle these situations. The goal is for our child to notice when another child would like a turn with something and to ensure the child gets a turn. When another child has an item that our child wants, we hope that they will eventually be able to control their impulse to grab the item. How? We model patience. And we teach words to help them work out the situation with the other child, so that she they can play with the item in the future.
Teach them to advocate for themselves
By teaching them to work things out with other children, we are teaching them an important life skill. If adults are always jumping in, children lose the ability to learn from the experience. If we tell them when their time is up and they must immediately share their toys, they won't learn how to speak up for themselves in a kind and respectful way.
Children should be allowed to play freely, feel fulfilled, and then give the toy over when they're finished. This method encourages self-regulation, discipline and the ability to know when one is feeling satisfied. It also promotes generosity. Kids enjoy making other kids happy, and when they are able to do it on their own time and not when they are forced, they learn how to be kind and giving.
Dr. Markham concludes: "When children are not forced to share, the end result is a child who learns patience and empathy and one who will be able to handle more emotionally complex situations as they grow older."