Teaching children to share has become a mainstream concept that many parents feel pressured to enforce. However, when we stop and think about it, how often in life beyond childhood are we ever required to share? When you are looking through a book at the bookstore, are you forced to hand it over when a stranger comes along and appears interested? When you buy a new car, do you have to let your coworker drive it? If a friend comes over, are you forced to let them cook in your kitchen or try on your clothes? No! Now we may invite a friend to check out our new gadget or go for a spin in that new car, but as adults we would never assume that it was required of us. So why do we require it from children? Particularly young children who are not developmentally ready or capable of sharing?
Many times, parents feel the need to enforce sharing in young children because they want their child to be “kind” and they want to avoid another child getting upset at the idea of waiting. However, learning to wait is a very important and valuable skill. What if instead, we took this as an opportunity to offer each of the children involved a valuable experience? The child currently using the object can turn their attention back to their work and build concentration, knowing that their time with this object will be protected and alleviating any need to “hoard” the object out of fear that it will be taken from them before they are ready. The child that approached and is interested in using that object, will have the chance to practice and build patience and respect for others with the reassurance that their time will also be respected.
Children will naturally begin to share things with others when they become more socially aware, usually by the end of the first plane of development. It is a natural part of being a social human being. When we allow this idea to develop naturally from the child’s own mind, we allow them to experience that sharing with others is joyful and an opportunity for connection. When we force sharing, particularly before a child is ready, we ultimately create a negative association with sharing that can take a long time to unlearn.
If you step into a Montessori classroom, you will notice that there is usually only one of each material. This is very much on purpose! Children very quickly learn that if you want to use something that someone else is working with, you will have to wait until they have finished. What a great opportunity to build self control and patience! On the flip side, they also learn that when they are working with something, their time will be respected and they can use the material for as long as they would like. There is no fear that someone will take it from them or tell them that their turn is up. When both of these components are present, children very quickly and happily adjust to this practice.
At home, you can encourage this concept by protecting your child’s concentration and giving them phrases to use when someone else is interested in something they are working with. For example, they can say something such as, “I am using this right now. You may use it as soon as I am finished”. Model this behavior and practice role playing scenarios to help your child (and you!) feel confident applying this phrasing in real life situations.