It’s important, right? We all want children to learn to be generous. We want them to think of others. We understand that by nature young children are egocentric, but when a child shares, we feel happy. It’s the right thing to do in a civilized society, and it will make others like them too.
“We don’t make children share here!” the teachers say brightly at our open house. The parents look at each other sideways, probably thinking, “WHAT? What is the point of sending them to school with other kids, then? They get to not share their toys at home (or, they have a hard time sharing with siblings and we want them to improve). Do you really not ever make them share? Why not?”
Well, the answer is, “We do expect them to share… eventually.” How do we make that happen? It’s a process. It varies day-to-day and child-to-child. We approach 3-year-olds differently than we approach 5-year-olds, especially the children we’ve known a long time.
But what it really means is that we don’t FORCE sharing, especially at first.
Imagine you have a book you’re really excited to read. You have a vacation day coming up and all you want to do is read this book. You ordered it, you waited for it, and now you have the chance to read it! Now imagine that someone tells you as you’re settling down to enjoy the book that someone else has been waiting for it longer and you have to give it to them, right now. You don’t know when you’ll get it back.
How do you feel about the person telling you to give it up, and about the person getting it instead of you? Not very good!
But what if you had already read the book, and actually wanted someone else to read it so you could talk about it? Now someone suggests that you give the book to someone else. Great! Yes, I’ll be glad to! In fact, I’m so done with it, I don’t even want it anymore!
That’s what we want. We want the children to give authentically, and to notice that it feels good to behave generously. When you give people things, it can make them happy, but we aren’t saying that you always have to give up what you want, or that another child’s feelings are more important, or that adults decide when children are finished using something. How would we know?
We trust that the children have important plans, even if they are using “more than their fair share” to make those plans happen. Fairness to us is that everyone gets what they need, not that everyone gets the same.