From an early age we teach children to play well together which usually translates to being kind to other children and learning to share. It’s no coincidence that no matter how many toys there are, if a child has picked a particular one out of the box, then all the other children will want that one too.
In these instances the usual parenting advice is to encourage children to share, take their turn and after a certain time, to let another child have a go with the toy. However, there is a new practice that actually goes against this traditional teaching of sharing which, although it may seem to negate our notion of teaching our children to be thoughtful and kind, it actually creates a mindset of generosity and empathy towards their peers.
Why Teaching Children To Share May Not Be Effective Parenting Advice
Your first reaction may be ‘of course I should teach my children to share!’ After all, children need to learn that they can’t hog everything for themselves and they need to be aware that other people want to use or play with what they currently have. But by doing this, are we really teaching our children the right lessons?
While it seems that the right thing to do is for a child to give up a loved toy to give to another – whether voluntarily or with tear-filled screaming – there is another side to this and that is we are teaching children that it’s okay to have something someone else has, just because they want it. The idea is that this teaches them that they are ‘owed’ in some way just for wanting the toy. Whether the child is at either end of the situation, they are learning that they can essentially step over someone to get what they want. It’s also usually the case that the child doesn’t even want the toy, but it’s a opportunity for power and possession of something the other child wants.
Our ultimate shared goal is for our children to learn, understand and grow into kind and generous people who can respond naturally to the needs of others and they develop these qualities in their early play environments. By forcing them to share we are allowing children to create these mindsets:
- Creates competition and feelings of negativity towards the other child.
- Allows a child to believe that the harder they cry and protest the more likely they can get what they want.
- Takes away the pleasure of playing because they know there is a time-limit on the toy they have.
- Allows a child to perceive that adults are in charge of who gets what and for how long, and it’s usually inconsistent depending on how much the child protests.
- Allows a child to conclude they themselves must be greedy but it’s what they have to do to get what they want.
What Should You Do Instead?
It’s all about allowing a child to think for themselves and giving them more control. Understandably as parents, we sometimes believe we should regulate, oversee and control a child’s behaviour and responses because we understand the situation much more than a child, however, we need to step back a little and allow children to self-regulate their own turns with a toy. In other words, we trust that our child can formulate, make connections and come to the right decisions by themselves.
By doing this a child can play happily for as long as they like, with no pressure of power struggle or parental control over how long they have the toy for, but also to hand over the toy with willingness and love when they’ve finished with it. This may sound undoable but with the right amount of freedom, they can learn over time from their own emotional responses and develop their moral understanding.
Not only that, but a child learns they shouldn’t just give up what they want just because someone else demands it in a negative way. Instead, they have a choice to give the other child the toy because they understand the feelings of the other child and perhaps they want to hand over the toy because they no longer want it and recognises the other child may want a turn just like they did themselves. Therefore, this technique:
- Allows a child to learn they can be just as happy playing with another toy while they wait.
- Allows a child to realise they are good and patient.
- Shows they don’t have to cry and scream to get what they want. Everyone gets a turn eventually and in good time.
- Allows them to create more positive feelings towards the child that voluntarily give them the toy they want.
- Teaches them that they are generous when they hand over the toy to another child of their own free will.
The overall idea of implementing this different style of parenting is to develop a greater sense of empathy in children during play. Playing is a crucial time when our children learn how to communicate effectively and this technique helps develop their sense of empathy and their skill in patience that will help them be more efficient in handling bigger situations in the future.
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