In our family, I guess you could say that we have a “policy” that if someone is playing with something, it’s not okay to take it away. Basically, we do not make our kids share just because someone else wants what they are playing with. I never really thought about this as being our policy, however, until I read this article and I realized that yeah, this is kind of a policy with us. And with our four children, it has worked really really well. But when we’re out and about, the real question is: How can we enforce this in public…with other children whom we do not control?
A Bit More About Our Sharing Policy
Even though I’m the one with a teaching certificate, a Master’s degree, and seven years of teaching under my belt, my husband is the one who comes up with some of the best one liners that shape our family’s “Mission Statement” if you will. Our kids repeat, “Treat others how you want to be treated; An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind; Don’t tell me what I can’t do, tell me what I can do”, and other phrases that help them to figure out how to navigate their own way in this world. I love it! So even though we came to these policies together, he’s the one who comes up with all of the cool phrases that the kids repeat, like “It’s not okay to take something away!”
Our sharing policy pretty much follows these guidelines:
- It’s not okay to take something away. If someone is playing with something, it is not okay to come up and take it away. Let’s say that we see Elliot take a toy away from Ophelia. If so, we will intervene and give Ophelia the toy back while reciting our policy, “That’s not okay to take away so-and-so’s toy while they are playing with it”.
- Make a trade or wait your turn. Now that Elliot has given Ophelia her toy back, he has two options: He can wait for Ophelia to be done with the toy, or he can make a trade. This part of our policy is really cool, and the children love it. So basically, Elliot can find a toy to entice Ophelia with, and if Ophelia drops her current toy to play with the toy Elliot has offered, then Elliot can now play with Ophelia’s toy. (This is provided that Ophelia is truly happy once the trade has completed. If Elliot has coerced her into something she didn’t really want to do and she is now upset, the trade will be null and void.)
- New toy policy. We also have a policy about new toys that were specifically purchased for a particular child, like a birthday present or something. Now, any toy in any common area is open season for any child (provided that no one is playing with it at the time). But if a child has a toy that is “new to them”, they can elect to not have that toy in the common area until it’s not “new to them” anymore. Usually, a child doesn’t realize that they don’t want anyone else playing with their toy until they see someone else playing with it, at which point we’ll say, “Is that toy still new to you?” And if they say yes, we encourage them to put it in their rooms or somewhere where no one else can get to it until they are ready to keep it in the common area and let anyone play with it.
Why Do We Have These Sharing Policies?
It may seem a little complicated, a little convoluted, and a little time intensive to establish and enforce these sharing policies, but trust me, having such policies in place eliminates A LOT of fights. I mean, pretty much 99% of what kids fight about is wanting to play with the same toy at the same time, because, hey, that’s their world! Having a policy in place during these fights allows you, as the parent, to be a neutral party just there to enforce the rules. No favoritism detected at all.
Do you know what happens when you don’t have such policies in place? You end up caving in to whoever is screaming the most. Trust me, I’ve been there! And if your policy is that you always give the toy in question to whoever is screaming the loudest, you are setting yourself up for some very stressful situations in the future! The goal in parenting is not to just get through each moment or each day, the goal is to teach your children how to function when you’re not around. And sooner than you think, they will be out of your sight living with the skills you have provided them. Learning how to share is probably one of the most important skills for children to master as they gain independence.
What About Other Children?
Now enforcing this policy with your own children is all well and good, but what about when other children are involved? Let’s say your child is at the park, or a part of a play group, or at an organized activity, and they are happily playing with a toy, when another child comes up and tries to take that toy away. What then?
You know what we typically do in these situations? We do what we think we’re supposed to do and say to our child, “You’ve played with that toy long enough, why don’t you give so-and-so a turn,” or we’ll just say loudly enough for all to hear in our mommy voice, “Shaaaare!” We say this because we think it’s what everyone is expecting us to say, not because it’s what’s best for our child!
Everyone wants to look like the good parent whose children know how to share, but when we allow children in our groups to just walk up and take something away from another child, and even worse, when we encourage it to happen, we are basically encouraging bully behavior. We are saying,
“It’s okay for someone to come up to you and take things away from you.” We are saying, “You don’t have any control over the behavior of others so you just have to accept the fact that others can do whatever they want to you.”
By allowing children (especially children they don’t know) to take things away from our own children, they are left feeling vulnerable, unprotected, and let down. We let them down, and so inevitably they scream and cry, and then we pick them up and say loudly so everyone will hear, “You need to learn how to share. If you can’t share, then we are going to have to go home right now!”
Now, doesn’t your mommy heart just break when you hear it put like that? So what are we supposed to do?
How to Enforce Your Sharing Policy…with Tact
Okay, so you’re at your mommy group or at the park, and all of the children are playing in the middle while you sit off to the side casually chatting with each other, when you see a child come up to your child ready to take their toy away. This is what you say and do:
- Walk up to both children, crouch down so you are at their level, take the toy away from the other child (gently) and give it back to your child saying (calmly, but firmly), “So-and-so is playing with this toy, when they are done with it, you can have it.” It’s important to make eye contact here with the children, don’t look to the other mothers!
- You can also ask your child if they’d like to give their toy away (don’t say share, because it’s not sharing). And if you say, “Would you like to give this boy/girl your toy?” and they say no, it’s OK! Don’t belittle them and say sarcastically, “Sorry, so-and-so doesn’t want to share right now!” because that defeats the whole purpose.
- If the child who wants your child’s toy doesn’t want to give up his or her pursuit and seems somewhat willing to listen, you can say, “If you want to play with so-and-so’s toy, you can find another toy to give them in trade.” Then, if your child accepts the trade, voila! But if not, then you need to stand up for your child and protect them. You can say to the other child, “There are plenty of other toys here that you can play with, and when so-and-so is done playing with this toy, you can have it.”
Okay, so I can see the eye rolls coming from the other mothers too. “Look at that horrible mother,” they’ll whisper to each other, “She doesn’t know how to teach her child how to share!” And you know what? Let them whisper, let them talk, let them see you stick to your guns and time and time again to defend your child, to teach your child, and to guide your child towards proper behavior in both the giving and the receiving end. Your children only have you for a little while to guide them and stick up for them like this, and when they see you standing up for your policy in front of others, they will have a MUCH easier time following it themselves.
So now that you’ve burned all of your bridges with the mothers in your group and at the park and have no friends left…okay, so I hope that doesn’t happen, but what if it did? Are you okay with losing the supposed approval of other mothers at the cost of your own child? If you enforce your policy with confidence and explain yourself to the other mothers whose jaws are left agape in disbelief after you so brazenly influence their child, you may just gain a few supporters. And after a bit of time, if everyone in your circle can see the positive benefits of your policy, maybe they’ll adopt it too, and then you can all work as a community to teach your children that they matter, that they are important, and that they come first. Because in the end, your mommy friends aren’t the ones you are accountable for, your children are, and they deserve to come first.