It's something you hear everywhere children are. "Make sure you share," a well-meaning parent chides their kid on the playground. But should parents really force their kids to share their toys or food or super cool new bike? One mom's viral post about sharing has re-fanned the flames of the "to share or not to share" argument, and she makes some pretty good points for allowing children to make their own decisions. Just like grown ups do all the time.
Alanya Kolberg posted a Facebook picture of her son Carson at a nearby playground last week. It went down like this: Carson showed up to the park like a champion, with Minecraft action figures, a truck, and a Transformer (as all good toddlers do). Immediately, she wrote, six kids approached him asking to play with his toys, demanding that he share them. Carson didn't want to share.
Maybe he didn't feel like playing with other kids that day and wanted some alone time. Maybe he had a really cool scenario he was planning on acting out with the toys before unveiling the act for the greater playground crew. Maybe he knows one of the kids is prone to tearing legs off of action figures and isn't going to risk his Minecraft toy. It doesn't really matter why Carson didn't share. Because, according to his mom, a child shouldn't be forced to share.
Kolberg wrote that almost immediately the six kids ran up to her to snitch on Carson's sharing abilities. When she responded, "He doesn't have to share with you. He said no. If he wants to share, he will," she got some dirty looks from the kids and their parents. Kolberg wrote in her post:
If I, an adult, walked into the park eating a sandwich, am I required to share my sandwich with strangers in the park? No! Would any well-mannered adult, a stranger, reach out to help themselves to my sandwich, and get huffy if I pulled it away?
She makes a pretty solid point. For the record, Carson was waiting to surprise his friend, a girl, who was meeting him and his mom at the park with the toys. They were waiting on a playdate. Chiding kids for not sharing, according to Kolberg's post, might not be the best way to teach children to be generous anyway. Kolberg continued:
The goal is to teach our children how to function as adults. While I do know some adults who clearly never learned how to share as children, I know far more who don't know how to say no to people, or how to set boundaries, or how to practice self-care. Myself included.
Teaching kids they don't have to share and can take care of their personal needs is a big deal. In fact, most kids share more when it's their choice, and not a rule. A lot of times it seems that teaching sharing is about generosity, which is great. But Kolberg makes a solid case for making manners and setting boundaries a priority.
Last year, the BBC ran a segment on its show, The Secret Life of Toddlers, in which a girl named Skylar was put in a tricky situation. A group of children were all given gifts. Everyone got the same thing, except Skylar, who got an extra bonus present of chocolate. The kids immediately began bargaining with Skylar, telling her that she should, or had to, share the chocolate with them. Skylar's face is immediately stressed out. Yes, it's cute and funny, but there's a lot of angst in there.
She doesn't want to be rude, but Skylar really wants her candy and doesn't see why she has to give it up. Sure, she didn't earn it, but it's hers and who she shares with is her prerogative. Just like, say, an adult might feel about donating money to charity, giving a person in need change on the street, or applying for government subsidies. Giving, sharing, and asking for things are complicated decisions for adults. Imagine how it feels for kids who can't process all of those thoughts.
Raising (or even just witnessing) toddlers is crazy hard. Watching them try to play with toys in a group can be like watching a group of pit bull puppies tussle over a tennis ball. It's hard to know when to step in, who "deserves" what, and whether someone is going to bite or not. They're all cute, but it can go bad very quickly.
Carson, Skylar, or any kid on the playground shouldn't be made to feel bad because they don't want to share their toys, chocolate, or personal space. Adults do it all the time. Maybe instead of teaching kids that sharing is the only option, it could be more useful to teach them that it feels really good to share when they can and when they feel safe doing do.