We were at a friend’s house—two couples, five kids, one foosball table. My son asked to have a turn and when my friend’s daughter put up a fight (which I understood, because she’d only been playing for a few minutes), my friend snapped at her. Before I had a chance to step in, she forced her daughter to give her spot at the table over to my son.
I know I’ve done the exact same thing in an attempt to save face and look like I’m raising generous kids. I’m all for kids sharing, but from my perspective as the mom of the requester, what my friend did seemed unnecessary. It was a great lesson for me. The next time I’m the mom of the kid being asked to share, I’m going to remember what I’ve learned about why forcing a child to share isn’t a good thing.
Why You Shouldn’t Force Sharing
In her book It’s OK Not to Share… And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, Heather Shumaker argues that sharing should be genuine. When we force kids to share, they don’t learn generosity; they just learn that sharing stinks.
When we force kids to share, they don’t learn generosity; they just learn that sharing stinks.
Think about how you’d feel if you were at the gym using a set of weights and someone came over and asked to use them. You would probably say, “Sure. When I’m done.” Imagine then that your mom shows up and says, “Give her the weights, sweetie. It’s nice to share.” First, you’d ask your mom what she’s doing at your gym. But then you’d tell her she’s nuts! Yet we force our kids to share because we think we’re teaching them the virtue of generosity and that it’s rude for them not to share. How can we teach them that sharing is good when the lesson is paired with a rotten feeling? Instead, it builds resentment and makes sharing annoying.
How to Encourage but Not Force It
If the goal is to teach kids generosity and that other people matter, there are better ways to do that than by forcing them to share. Children don’t move from being self-focused to self-and-others-focused until their brains mature, but you can encourage them to think of others’ needs with a few verbal tools. Here’s our foosball situation reimagined (with the names changed to protect the innocent, and my friendship).
When my son Graham asked for a turn at the foosball table, 11-year-old Grace could’ve used assertive yet polite language like, “You’re welcome to play with it after me.” If Graham kept pressing and then came whining, my friend could’ve said to her daughter, “You look like you’re having fun. Will you tell Graham when you’ve finished playing?” And then, when Grace finished playing, my friend could’ve said, “Go find Graham and let him know you’re done. Remember, he’s waiting for a turn.”
This way of approaching sharing doesn’t encourage selfishness on behalf of the child who’s playing with the toy, nor does it allow the child who’s asking for the toy to have what he wants exactly when he wants it. It’s child-directed turn-taking and it teaches impulse control, assertiveness, consideration of others, and yes, how to share.
The Phrase to Remember
Each sharing scenario is different and there’s no guarantee you’ll be there to guide your kids or play referee, so tell them to keep this phrase handy: When I’m/you’re done. Kids can use it to ask: “When you’re done with the scooter, I’d like to ride it!” Or they can use it to respond: “You can use the game controller when I’m done with my turn.”
Whether your child is the one playing or the one asking for a turn, this phrase reminds everyone involved that the turn isn’t over until the person is done. And when he or she is done, the child waiting will get the same opportunity.
What do you think about kids sharing? Do you make your child do it or wait to step in?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
Would you rather have only one toy that’s really awesome or several less-exciting toys?