Please, please stop forcing your kids to share. I get it. Parenting is a staggering job. We have a responsibility to teach our kids how to interact with others. We have to teach them how to care about people.
But try this experiment with me. The next time you force your child to share anything– a toy, a snack– look at your kid’s face and tell me if that is what caring looks like. You’d be hard-pressed to find an expression more vitriolic and consternated. You think you are teaching your child to be gracious and and charitable but in fact the opposite is true.
Zoe and I were at the park today and there were a couple of kids, probably about 5 and 8, that were playing in the sand with some toys they had brought. Zoe started hobbling over to them and I could already see the anxiety building in their faces. Oh gosh, not a baby.
Kids, I feel your pain. I really get it. Babies are clueless. They might be able to walk, but they pretty much have nothing else in common with a five year old. I mean like barely even person-hood. They grab at you and your clothes and your toys while shrieking gibberish into your ears like banshees. They’re inconvenient. Babies exist only to absorb love and they give absolutely nothing in return.
Predictably, Zoe made a lunge for their toys. I usually just stand back and let the kids figure it out. Sometimes kids play with Zoe, sometimes they push her down, sometimes they sprinkle sand on her hair. Whatever. Zoe’s fine. I’m amazed at how much parents like to intervene.
These particular children simply let Zoe have their toys. Fine, but they were clearly unhappy about it. I could feel their resentment all the way from where I was standing. Zoe was still fine, but the kids were very obviously not. So I ambled over to make myself available to them.
Sure enough, as soon as he identified that I was the guardian watching Zoe, the younger one blurted out, “The baby is taking our things!”
“Yeah, she does that.” I replied. “You don’t have to let her play with your toys.”
Instantaneously a smile broke out over the girl’s face. What a relief! That was all she wanted to hear. I took her toys back from Zoe and handed them to her and she continued playing with them, simply keeping them out of Zoe’s reach.
Ten minutes later the same thing happened with another child. You think you are teaching your child to share but think about the lessons you are actually teaching them:
1. You can never say “no.” As adults we have difficulty saying “no” when someone asks for a favor or to borrow something and we become increasingly unhappy as we give more than we feel capable and we wonder how we got this way.
2. Nothing is ever really yours. Imagine how scary that is for a child. What if an adult suddenly took away something that was very important to you without your consent? Like how about, I don’t know, your house? Pretty sure the British tried that with the Quartering Act and as a nation we didn’t take it very well.
3. If you cry loudly enough, you will always get what you want, even if it isn’t yours. This is why we have trouble respecting other people’s right to say the magic word “no.”
And perhaps most importantly 4. Other people are an inconvenience. If they ever get anything good, it means I am missing out and it was most likely taken from me. We think we’re teaching the little people to care about others when in reality we are training them to be selfish.
Teach by example. Share with your kids and your friends and your spouses freely. Love people. That’s what inspires true charity.