Why I Teach My Kids To Share: A Response
Many of my friends on Facebook recently linked to a well-written post about why the writer does not make her young son share. There are some really valid points in her arguments about raising a generation of kids who feel entitled to have something because they want it.
And yet, the article bothered me. There was something missing for me. I felt the need to write a response, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why. So I mulled it over for nearly a week. I read through comments and thoughts by my much wiser fellow women and moms. But still, something was missing for me personally.
This is my attempt to articulate my own personal reasons for teaching my children to share. I present it only to add another dimension to the thoughts already shared. I am very grateful that I don’t have to raise other children besides my own. Random strangers remind me all the time that I have my hands full with the 5 entrusted to my care. Seriously…all the time.
When Jare was 6 years old he started Kindergarten at our local elementary school. My husband was in his last semester of college, so money was very tight. It was a struggle to keep up with all the field trips, book orders, sock drives, etc. that come when you have a child in school. Nearing the end of the year, it was time to order a yearbook for Jare. I really wanted him to have one, so I forked over the $15 to buy it and felt grateful that we were able to squeeze that much out of our budget for him to have a record of his first year in school.
Then I got an email from his teacher. She told me that she saw another boy with Jare’s yearbook. She said that the boy told her that Jare gave it to him, and that Jare told her that he wanted the other boy to have it. She asked me if I wanted her to make the little boy give it back to Jare.
I sat there for a minute processing the situation. My gut reaction was, “Heck yeah, I want it back.” After all, I could not afford to buy another one. But then I thought about it and decided to talk to Jare first.
When he came home, we chatted. He explained that the little boy couldn’t afford a yearbook and that he really wanted one and that Jare really wanted to give him his. I explained to Jare that I couldn’t afford to replace the yearbook, that if he gave it away, he was truly giving it away. Jare told me that the little boy never got to order from a book order, not even the cheap books. The little boy never had an extra dollar to buy popcorn or a fancy pencil or anything. He said he understood that by doing this he wouldn’t have a yearbook and that he really wanted the boy to have it. And so that’s what happened.
I’m not sharing this story with you to make you think that Jare is an amazing kid. Jare is a normal kid who makes his fair share of mistakes. I’ve got most of them in writing. I’m sharing this story because if you are a human you probably felt joy that there was a kid in the world willing to make a sacrifice for someone else. Maybe it even made you feel all warm and fuzzy that he wanted to give someone an experience that they otherwise would not have had. We see these stories occasionally in the news. I don’t know about you, but they make me feel excited about those kids who will soon enough be grown-ups.
If we are being honest our world has become increasingly “me-centered”, a point that the original article brings up in a valid way. Many kids now believe that because they want something they should have it, at the expense of others. But that feeling cuts both ways. Other kids believe that because they have something they should get to keep it all to themselves at the expense of others.
So we pull toys out of our kid’s hands when other kids want them and then expect their parents to pull them right back out of their kid’s hands and give them back because our kids want them?
We teach sharing by sharing ourselves. We express gratitude and appreciation when our children share. We ask our children to share when they are monopolizing public items or areas that others want access to as well. We share stories of people who have shared with us and how it made us feel. We teach about taking turns and why it is mutually beneficial. When someone doesn’t share with our children, we don’t shame the child or comment on the parenting techniques of their mom or dad. But we might talk privately with our child about how it made them feel that they weren’t shared with and caution them against causing those same feelings in others. We can teach them about only making sacrifices that they can accept and handle the consequences for. We can show them how we set boundaries with our sharing and encourage them as they do the same thing.
This isn’t a passive parenting technique, but neither are most. It takes effort to raise a kid who knows how to share and when and what not to share. (Why do they always want to share their sippy cups but not their toys?)
Whether you like it or not, we share this world. Our kids are going to grow up sharing the roads, the workplace, the air, the neighborhood parks, the grocery stores, and many other places. That’s the way it is when there isn’t just one person with access to the whole shebang.
I learned to share from watching the examples of my parents. I saw my mom let people go in front of her at the grocery store when they had only a few items and her basket was full. I saw my dad do it when he donated money to a family my class had adopted for Christmas and went without new boots to do it. And more than that, I saw them do it every single day for us as their children. I still remember being six years old and having my mom give me a Snickers candy bar. I went to divide it in half with my sister. The pieces broke unevenly. I remember staring at both halves for a minute before giving her the bigger half. My mom hugged me. I didn’t know, but she had been watching. I remember feeling happy as she told me that she was proud of me. I lost nothing by giving a larger section to my sister. I was telling her, “I want you to have this more than I want to have it.” I think our world could use a little more of that, but it won’t happen without some teaching, modeling, and communicating that sharing is a virtue worth having.
So remember Jare and the yearbook? When other people heard about what he had done, we had 5 different people offer to purchase a replacement yearbook for him. One was a teacher at the school who heard about what had happened from Jare’s teacher. Another was a friend of the family. 2 more were family members. The last was a little girl (and her parents) in Jare’s class. Ultimately the grandparents went to the school and bought him one. They get to do that because they are grandparents. At first I worried that it sent the wrong message to Jare. Give and someone else will be right there to give back to you. But then I thought that the lesson might be perfect. By giving away his one yearbook, he got back so much more.
And don’t worry. I’m not going to go around trying to force your kids to share. I also won’t go around telling my children (or even thinking) that yours are selfish because they sit on the best swing at the park for 2 straight hours while every other child waits for a chance. I’m not going to give you evil looks because your child took all five of the last bottles of bubbles on the shelf. But I will encourage my kids to take turns at the park when your child wants a chance to slide. I will praise my daughter for putting the tub of crayons in the middle of the table so that your child can reach them, too. I’ll squeeze my son’s shoulder in appreciation when he holds the door open for your family despite the fact that he’s standing in the rain. I’ll teach my kids that sharing isn’t always rewarded with gratitude, appreciation, or like-minded treatment from others, but with a deep feeling inside that you’ve helped or added to the space around you, that you’ve made the world a little brighter for someone else, and that you’ve magnified a desire to show love to others. Because ultimately, it’s not really about sharing a toy…