‘Sometimes Kids Don’t Need To Share.” That was the title of a recent revelatory piece on Christianity Today’s Web site.
What? How is this possible? How many times a day do I tell my 2-year-old, “We have to share”?
The author, Rachel Boldwyn, suggests that making a toddler share is not only developmentally inappropriate, it also fails to foster the kind of character traits and habits we want our children to have.
“Sharing has become the pinnacle of virtuous toddlerhood,” she writes, “where all children get a turn, there are no tears and peace is preserved.
And since no one wants to be the guilty parent with the offending child, moms and dads routinely apologize to their child’s playmates (and caregivers) on behalf of their unsharing tot.”
This woman has been secretly hanging out during my kids’ playdates, apparently. She knows, of course, that saying “we have to share” is an immediate recipe for confusion, anger and meltdowns.
Even “taking turns,” which is at least a more concrete suggestion, doesn’t really help as much as you might think.
Is every toy eligible for turn-taking? Are there some things you can keep for yourself? How long does a turn last? And who is keeping track?
This is a particular problem for siblings. Are things in the home owned collectively? Do the parents own everything and simply dole items out for use?
Does it matter that it was a birthday present, that it’s fragile, that it can only be used a limited number of times? And why do 5-year-olds find the inconsistencies in our rules so easily?
It turns out Boldwyn is on to something. Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and founder of a Web site called Aha Parenting, says parents should not force toddlers to share.
“It actually delays the development of sharing skills,” she says. “Kids need to feel secure in their ownership before they can share.”
Which makes sense: If you think you’re never going to see the toy again, you’ll hold on for dear life. Even taking turns can be difficult when you have no sense of the difference between a minute, an hour and a day.
Another mommy blogger, Beth Wankel, writes that the problem with forced sharing is even worse than that.
When a parent makes their child give up a toy for his friend, it sends the wrong message to the friend, too.
“This is not how things work in the real world. In your child’s life, he’s going to think he’s owed everything he sees.” As if we don’t get enough of that already.
Boldwyn also notes that there is not much point for the child forced to give up the toy, either. “I don’t just want my children to comply with the behavior of sharing, but to embody the virtue behind it: selflessness.”
As children get older it is easier to observe this trait. Older children are usually happy to give over items to the baby — or they’re shamed into it.
“Do you really want to play with a baby toy?” But normal kids start to enjoy seeing other people happy.
Of course we want our children to get along with other people, and making them share their toys with friends seems like a step on that road.
But maybe there are other virtues we are stifling with this whole forced sharing business.
Are we giving them the sense that all stuff is collectively owned and just by virtue of their presence in a room, they are entitled to take part in its use?
That’s not exactly the kind of message we want to send to create tough strivers.
How will they understand the importance of property rights to growing a free and prosperous society?
And this whole business about having some authority divvy up our spoils and arbitrarily decide who is most deserving of them sounds more like a socialist utopia than a practice for training our children to be democratic citizens.
Of course, we have to draw some lines in the sandbox and see to it that one overgrown toddler doesn’t run roughshod over the others.
But in the case of sharing, as with so much else in parenting these days, it may be that the best course of action is to take a few steps back.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.