Why are Parents Obsessed With Sharing?

June 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm 1 comment

The scene:  neighborhood play group

Little Oliver is playing happily with his stuffed bear, and another kid sidles over and rips it out of his hands.  Oliver wants it back, but his mum says, “Let’s share your bear!  This little boy wants to play with it.”  Oliver holds it together and wanders over to the sandbox, where he sees a shovel next to a girl.  He picks it up, the girl freaks, and Oliver’s mom pulls the shovel out of his hands, returning it to the little girl.  “We need to share the shovel, Oliver.”

Have you ever seen this?  A parent who is so obsessed with sharing that her rules are: whenever someone wants what you have, you give it to them, but whenever you want something someone else has, you can’t have it.

Why is this a lesson we want kids to learn?

Can you imagine if the adult world looked like this?

You’re sitting on the subway and someone comes over and takes your iphone out of your hand to make a quick call.  Sharing!  Or at a restaurant, the waiter takes a bite out of your burger.  Sharing!  How many times have you tried to find your car in the mall parking lot and someone had taken it for a spin? Darn sharing!

It sounds ridiculous when we apply it to adult life, but I would wager that a toddler is more emotionally connected to his truck than an adult is to his burger.

Yet the toddler, a person whose brain is still the size of a grapefruit*, is expected to suppress his urges and give up his prized possession to any strange kid who wants it.

I get it–we all want generous, courteous kids who don’t embarrass us in public.  But expecting the under-3 set to share when they don’t want to is just setting ourselves up for failure.  It’s not developmentally appropriate, either–especially for the youngest toddlers who don’t even have the language skills to explain what they want.

The cynic in me thinks that parents just harp on sharing as a signal to others:  “I’m a great parent!  I make my 11-month-old share!”

So my proposal is: parents, stay out of it.  Give the kids at least a millisecond to deal with their sharing issues before you step in and micromanage.  If your kid grabs a toy and the other kid doesn’t seem too perturbed, let it go!

It doesn’t mean your kid will be grabbing iphones from strangers on the subway.

*I made this up.  I couldn’t find the size of a toddler’s brain, as compared to fruit, in two minutes of googling.

Image: Louisa Stokes / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Entry filed under: parents these days. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. eliminationcommunication  |  June 18, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    I know I struggle with this. I wouldn’t mind letting the tots hash it out a bit, but other parents can make that difficult too. It’s a very small wire to balance on…


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