The one about NOT sharing

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

You're sat at a computer, utterly engrossed in something when someone comes up behind you and snatches the keyboard from you, you're just about to break their teeth and tell them to fucking wait their turn when suddenly someone says 'Let so and so have a go now, you've had a turn.  They  really want to use it.  You have to share it.' It's yours, you were in the middle of doing something and you don't want to share it.  Can you imagine the above scenario?  No? That's because you're an adult and the world doesn't work that way.  You share what you want, when you want and to whom you want to.

So now imagine a young child playing with a toy elephant.  They've been immersed in some intricate game with it for quite some time.  Another child sees the elephant and really really wants it so heads on over and tries to take it.  The first child attempts to keep hold of it because they're not done playing with it.  A 'helpful' adult interjects and usually will say something along the lines of '[child B] would really like to play with that elephant and you've had it ages, let them have it now.  You know it's nice to share'  There is no request, it's a veiled order and child A knows this so begrudgingly hands the toy over.  Is this really sharing?  or is this merely submission?  The notion of sharing itself suggests an element of choice, either by mutual agreement to share by one party agreeing or offering to share something with another party.  Child A isn't learning what it feels like to willingly let someone else use something that is desired by both.  Child B isn't learning gratitude or how nice it feels for someone to let them use something they want.  Child A is basically learning that sharing is shit, it interrupts your game and makes you feel sad or angry, they will come to resent doing it.  Child B is learning that if you want something, you get it.  How is this beneficial to either child or even take it one step society?

As adults, no matter how impatient we feel if someone is using something we're waiting for, we wait.  We may not want to wait.  We may hate waiting.  We may try and hurry the person up (whilst calling them every name under the sun in our head). We know though that essentially no matter how much of an arse it appears the person already using it is, we have to wait until they're finished.

Why should it be different for kids?

Regardless of whether it's an adult or a child requesting Child A to give up the toy, Child A should feel confident enough to reply with 'I'm not finished with it yet/I'm still playing'  The adult shouldn't insist they hand over the toy either, they could just have easily have said to Child B 'I'm sorry but [Child B] hasn't finished with it yet'  How many times as an adult do we end up agreeing to stuff we don't want to do all because we felt we couldn't say no?  How terrific would it be if we gave our children the confidence to assert themselves from an early age, to be able to say 'no' to something someone else wants them to do.  To not have to say yes because they feel they can't say no?

It's natural for Child B to want it and even to grab it, the child is being impulsive which is what children do best yet it is our job as adults to help them develop a level of impulse control.

Child B is likely to be unhappy because they really really want that elephant.  They don't want to wait.  Waiting is a life skill though, it's something we all need to do.  It's also teaching Child B to respect boundaries, the boundary here being that they can't take the toy because Child A has it.  It's okay for them to feel angry or annoyed, we need to let them feel it and express it and then deal with it.  It would be wrong to trivialise or invalidate how they're feeling.  Hell, even let them tell Child A how miffed they are, they're entitled  to feel that way.  So long as they understand that they still can't take the toy, they still have to wait.

If Child A, fickle creatures that children are, finally loses interest in the toy and moves on the adult can either indicate to  Child B  that the toy is no longer being used or they could remind Child A that Child B was waiting for it.  This is now teaching Child A to respect others and also instills an awareness of others feelings too.  Child A can now choose to hand the toy over.  To share.  To give.  They will then feel the influx of positive emotion that accompanies this action.  It's basic psychology, if it feels good they're likely to want to do it again, unprompted too.

Yet this all sounds marvelously spiffy but it's not always so easy to implement, especially if either of the children are yours.  Whatever you do, one of the children is going to be pissed with you.  Sometimes we're misguided in what we believe is right and what is socially acceptable.  In an attempt to appear to be a good parent/human we may be tempted to nudge and insist our child to give up something before they're ready to just so we can internally boast that our child is soooooo good at sharing.  We fail to notice our child isn't sharing anything.  We are the one that is sharing in this instance, something that wasn't ours to share.

Nobody said it was easy.  Doing the genuinely right thing, never is.

If a child is expected to share something, it helps to let them in on this expectation before they start playing.   Something especially necessary in the case of squabbling siblings.  We have one trampoline and three kids who all want to use it at the same time, in this case we tell them before they use it that they must take turns and they can have x-minutes per turn. Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty as sin, when The Toddler is midst hissy fit and Thing One decides to match it, in sheer exasperation we may tell poor Thing One to just let The Toddler have it first, knowing that he will soon bore of it and give it back.  It's one of those anything for a quiet life moments.  We're only human. We're also guilty of hurrying Things One and Two up if they're taking an unnecessarily long time purely to make the other child wait longer. We do however redeem ourselves though as if Thing One was genuinely using something before The Toddler wanted it we do insist The Toddler waits and start operation distraction.

I do feel that there are slightly different rules however depending on the environment as in a park I'd never let The Spawn spend forever on a swing if other children were waiting, I would however suggest they come back and have another go later.

Finally, I also believe that some possessions should be sacred for a child.  If a child has a beloved toy, we should respect that and not simply allow others to use it even in their absence, this kind of passive sharing
is breaking a bond of trust. Just because a child isn't using something, it doesn't always mean we can allow another to use it.  It doesn't matter if it is a doll, a car or even a pebble.  How would you feel if whilst you were out your partner let a friend of his borrow your favourite necklace or shoes?  There has to be some things that a child can choose to not share if it has significant meaning to them and have trust that this will be respected.


  1. Just came across this from BritMums. Couldn't agree more! What we so often call 'sharing' is actually just making one kid give something to another purely because they want it right now, regardless of the first kid's claim to it, feelings, or anything. As a teacher, and as a parent, it gets on my nerves. Your point about making sure children know in advance that sharing will be expected in a certain situation is also a good one. I'm not into kids hogging things, but neither do I like to see kids demanding things and just getting them.


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