When my son started preschool, while I filled out paperwork, they let me know that they had a very specific policy on sharing. The policy was this: If a child was playing with a toy, they didn’t have to share it with another child just because somebody else asked for it. They could choose to share it, but if they were actively engaged and didn’t feel like giving it up, they could just say no.
I gotta say, this blew my mind. I mean, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, so I basically had the background mantra of “You have to share!” flowing through my veins. I think I might have gasped. But then, our preschool explained to me that once they started implementing the policy, the amount of fighting between the kids, tattling, and general annoyingness of caring for multiple preschoolers dropped dramatically.
And it makes sense if you really think about it.
Imagine this: You’ve just settled yourself down at your favorite coffee shop with a hot drink and you open up your laptop. A stranger walks up to you and says, “Hey, let me have a turn on that thing.”
You say, “Um, no. This is my laptop.”
He says, “No fair! It’s my turn!”
And then he goes and tattles on you to the barista. The barista comes over and says, “Okay, I think you’ve had enough time on the laptop. It’s time to give your friend a turn.”
And then she takes your laptop away from you, and hands it to the guy. That’s crazy, right? So why do we make a huge deal out of making our kids share their shit all the time? If you think about it, being forced to share everything at all times is weird. Sharing is weird. As adults, do we share our cats? Our ottomans? Our husbands? Just no.
Let me clear, I’m not talking about public stuff — obvious things like playground equipment need to be shared or else our society might collapse on itself. If my kid is being a total swing-hog and there is a line forming, I’m going to boot her butt off of there and let someone else have a turn. Obviously.
I’m talking about something that is theirs or something that they are actively engaged in and don’t need to give up right then just because someone else wants them to. It’s called boundaries, people. God knows we could all use some more of those these days.
Yes, sharing is a good skill for our kids to learn. But not always under any circumstance. I ultimately want to raise adults who can think through a situation and have those boundaries. “No” is an okay word to say when you don’t always have it in you to share your time, skills, self, or yes, things. As an adult, it’s okay to say, “You know what? I’m kinda busy right now. I’ll have to help you out a different time.” I wonder to myself if I’m such a freaking people-pleaser and occasional pushover because I did grow up with the always share mentality.
Also, I would feel like a crazy person if I knew I couldn’t get sucked into an activity without someone interrupting me or taking my stuff away. Oh wait, I’m a mom. That happens all the time. And explains a lot.
I’m not going to raise an asshole who doesn’t think they have to share ever. Why would I do that? Yes, people and relationships are more important than things. We give to charity. We let our friends borrow our car if they need it. We are raising kids who see that sharing and taking care of one another is the most important thing.
But I’m also not that interested in life being fair. It doesn’t bother me if my kids don’t get everything that their little hearts desire. And contrary to popular belief in the grade-school set, life actually isn’t fair. It won’t ever be. Good luck out there, little people. Yes, that kid has had the toy for longer than you. That’s rough, but I think you’ll make it through. If I teach my kids that life is not fair now, they will have a much better understanding of how shit goes down in college, or at work, or while being in a marriage.
I wonder if we all took the approach of my kids’ preschool and implemented a share-boundary situation if it might create nicer people. Maybe if children were taught that they can’t have everything they want right when they want it, there would be a lot nicer people growing up in the world.
You know, people who don’t throw a temper tantrum at every little provocation like , oh, I don’t know, you fill in the blank.
The goal, I think, is to teach our kids empathy rather than just forcing them to do our will or turn them into doormats who never stick up for themselves. If you have an abundance of something, you should share it, of course. Not just because it’s the kind thing to do, but it feels good to make other people happy. Kids know this somewhere deep in their naturally selfish little souls. We just need to encourage it, not force it.
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