Being able to share toys and snacks is a key social skill for toddlers and preschoolers. Of course, your child should learn to be polite and friendly. Knowing how to share is important.
But there are times when sharing isn’t appropriate, even though children might be asked to do so.
1. A child who brings her own toys to the beach or playlot shouldn’t have to share with other children who want what she has.
2. A child who is playing with one toy among many similar toys shouldn’t have to give up that toy to another child, since that child could pick one of the toys that are free.
3. A child who is eating a snack should never share that snack with another child. If the snacking child’s parent wants to encouraging sharing, the other child’s parent must be asked first.
These seem to be sensible rules. Yet many parents on the playground seem to have other ideas. I have seen – probably you have seen this too – mothers demand that a child give up a toy to make her own child happy, without regard for the fact that child has the toy brought it from home or that there are many other equally nice toys available. Parents say things like, “It’s our turn now” or “You’ve had that long enough,” as if there were a time limit to play.
But there’s not. So long as there are other play options for other children to enjoy, there’s no reason at all for a child to give up what he’s playing with, on demand. Other children do not have a right to insist on it. Certainly their parents don’t have that right.
It makes a difference if the plaything is the only one of its kind. If there’s only one baby swing at the playground, don’t hog it the entire morning, but give other parents and babies a chance. If there’s only one plastic shovel in the sandbox, help your child to give it up after a reasonable interval. But if there are many shovels and your child is digging with the only blue one but there are other shovels around, then she should be able to keep on digging without interruption. And without being made to share.
Naturally, if your child brings a toy to the playground and it is so wonderful that everyone wants to play with it so that it’s causing difficulties, the solution is to put that toy away. Remove the source of the problem, as a courtesy to other parents and in recognition that little children have an imperfect understanding of ownership. But even then your child is under no requirement to share.
If your child does decide to share her brought-from-home toy, then she must share it equally. She shouldn’t use the toy as a way to exert power over other children or to discriminate among them. Better to put the toy away and play with it at home than to cause outrage and sadness among other kids.
But usually the problem is with parents. It is they who express outrage and sadness when your child won’t give up a toy and their own child is unhappy. Some parents will give their children anything, even giving their children your own child’s stuff. You do not have to go along with this. Helping your child refuse doesn’t teach your child to be selfish. It teaches your child boundaries and how to stand up for what’s right.
Practice these words and step in if another child or another parent insists your child share what is his: “We brought that from home. It’s ours.” Say this with a smile and don’t back down.
When another child or parent tries to limit your child’s play with a toy when there are other toys available, say, “When we’re done with that, we’ll let you know.” Smile again. Do not give in.
And if you are the “other parent” remember that expecting something to be given up on demand isn’t sharing. It’s bullying. It’s not what you want your child to learn how to do.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.