“But Mom, it’s mine. I don’t want to share it.”
“Honey, you are eight years old. Your brother is only five. You are old enough to share your game with him!”
“No, I won’t let him have it!”
Sound familiar? The above is a recent conversation I had with my daughter. I was doing my best to convince her that she should share something that belonged to her, and she was not willing to give in. All I kept getting in return was: “It’s mine, not his!” Then it hit me. She was right! I selfishly wanted her to share because I needed her to do so to avoid dealing with a temper tantrum from my five-year-old. The realization of my unfair motives for wanting her to share helped me to put the brakes on our battle. I was able to give her permission to not share and in the end, it was my responsibility – not hers – to deal with the tantrum.
The whole episode really got me thinking about this all-important issue called sharing. Why is it that parents feel so much pressure to make their children share? Lots of reasons started popping into my head. Could it be that it makes you feel competent as a parent to know your children behave nicely towards others? Or, perhaps it’s to avoid those embarrassing incidents – in public, of course – when your children fight over possessions. Or, as the incident above shows, it could be that it is sometimes easier to make them share than it is to deal with the emotions or battles from the other parties involved. Whatever your motives, you may believe that if your children share, they will become kind, generous, and giving individuals.
Being able to share is one of the pinnacles of moral development. All young children start off being egocentric, thinking of themselves as more important than others. You may recognize the stage that young toddlers and preschoolers go through during which there is a tremendous need to “own” everything. “Mine!” is the battle cry of the toddler. Only as they grow and develop ethically can they begin to think about the needs of those around them.
It isn’t until the elementary school years that children start to develop an understanding of the “golden rule,” that you should treat others the way you would like to be treated. As children mature further, they begin to recognize that being kind and caring towards others creates good feelings inside. Ethically speaking then, being able to share is something that makes us feel good, makes others feel good, and makes others feel good about us.
So why then do parents get into so many battles about sharing? Usually problems arise either when you try to push your children to share before they are developmentally ready, such as with a toddler, or when you force them to share on your terms, not their own, as I was trying to do with my daughter. TO MAKE THEM SHARE OR TO TEACH THEM? Figuring out how best to handle the issue of sharing can be difficult. It is one of those values that you would like to think comes from the heart; a person wants to share because he is internally motivated, not because some outside source is forcing him to do so. Often when children are made to share, feelings of resentment, unfairness, and anger are swirling in their heads rather than the feelings of kindness and generosity that one would hope for or expect.
So how can you motivate your children to share from their hearts?
One of the best ways is by being willing to share your time with them with patience and good will; for example, you can take a walk with your child and stop to notice the plants and bugs and construction that are of interest to him. By tuning in to your child, you will nurture him and “fill” him up – leaving him with an abundance of good feelings to share.
Another way to encourage your children to share is by letting them know when you share with others. You are your children’s most powerful model when it comes to teaching them to be kind. So when you share, your children learn to share. You can talk about your sharing and about how it makes you and others feel. Without forcing your children to share before they are ready, you can still have a powerful influence on them by letting them know that you value and appreciate “giving from the heart.”
However, sometimes everyone, young and old, has trouble sharing. Whether it’s a new toy or the magazine that just arrived in the mail, you may truly need to have that special something all to yourself for a while. It can be helpful to listen to and acknowledge your children’s feelings of not wanting to share at the moment. You can give them permission to “own,” while at the same time planting the seeds for sharing. “It looks like you don’t feel like sharing now. Maybe you could find something else for your brother to play with.” A simple statement, but what a powerful message you send. “I hear you, I respect your feelings and needs, and I trust you to find a solution or a way to make it better.” Giving your child a say in when or what he shares can go a long way toward instilling in him a desire to share.
Understanding and helping your children to identify their own feelings and needs opens them up to being able to identify and understand the feelings and needs of others. This is moral growth! And over time, this is what leads to sharing from the heart.By Deanna Bosley, Certified Parenting Educator
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