There is a debate raging in the parenting blogosphere and on the socials. It seems that the whole parenting world was turned on its ear when one mother posted that she doesn’t make her son share. It went viral, and now parents all over the interwebs are coming down on one side of the other of the sharing battle.
Here’s the problem with the “to share or not to share” debate: It’s a logical fallacy.
Stay with me.
The argument seems to go that if another child asks your child to share a toy then your child has the choice to either sacrifice the toy for the sake of being kind or keep the toy for the sake of… well… getting to keep the toy.
This either/or decision is at the core of the logical fallacy. In this case, parents are creating for their children what is known as a false dilemma. They are choosing to teach their child one of two possibilities, as if only two possibilities exist. Though – like so many things in real life – sharing is not an either/or scenario.
Here’s what my wife and I teach our almost 4-year-old twins about sharing, and I’m certain that it will put an end to the sharing debate once and for all (insert winking smiley emoticon here).
We teach our children that when another child asks them to share they are being presented with an opportunity. Sure, they can choose to either share the toy or not share the toy (their choice), but we also teach them two other options. They might invite the other child to play with them (when playing with blocks they might say, “Help me build a castle!”) or they could suggest a similar toy that the other child might like (“I have the red car; you can play with that blue one”).
Additionally, we teach that there is more to choosing not to share… It is not a permanent decision that can’t be undone. If they want the other child to wait until they are done, then a good way to help develop a friendship with the other child would be to offer the toy to that child when they are done playing with it. The other kid is usually surprised and thrilled by this, and it often resolves the child’s initial feelings of being let down about not getting to play with it right away.
How are they doing at developing these sharing skills? They’re catching on. It works really well at home where they both know the rules and are learning to abide by them. The oft-heard refrain is, “Are you done playing with that, yet?” Away from home, I’ve seen my daughter have terrific luck with inviting other kids to play with her. My son tends to choose not to share, gets upset that the other kid asked, and then guards the toy with his life, but he’s a smart little guy and he’ll get better at it.
Why do we teach our kids such an intricate set of skills to handle sharing? Because this is the way that real life works. The world is not black and white. It is filled with shades of gray, issues can be resolved amicably, and hurt feelings can be smoothed over.
And isn’t that the goal? As parents, don’t we really want to teach our children autonomy? Don’t we want to raise them so that they will be able to manage themselves in the world, make responsible decisions and then be happy with the decisions that they make?
Of course, I’m no expert. So, chime in. What sharing techniques work for your kids?