Preschoolers and Sharing
The Angel and The Devil Child
So… I’m at the park with my three year old waiting for a friend to join us with her daughter. We are happily playing on the swings when my friend pulls up. The mini van door slides open and out pops her always-in-her-eyes angelic three-year, complete with a brand new bottle of bubbles and one wand. One.
(Oh no, this is gonna get ugly pretty fast.)
Her daughter, lets call her…Angel, proceeds to put her new prize down, right smack in front of my daughter. She takes out the wand with a flourish and starts blowing.
My daughter…lets call her... Devil, stares…and stares and… stares. I can see the jealousy growing in her eyes.
Sure enough she looks at me, looks at Angel, and looks at me again.
“I want bubbles. I want bubbles I want BUB-LES!!
I give her a tight smile, “Sorry Devil we don’t have any bubbles. Maybe Angel will share with you?”
“No,” says Angel. Loudly. Clenching the wand in her hand. “My bubbles.”
“Oh, that’s her new toy,” Angel’s mother says to my daughter in this sickly sweet voice that makes me just want to punch her. “I don’t think she wants to share them yet.”
I am taken aback. What? A special new toy? She doesn’t want to share it? Well, then MAYBE she shouldn’t have brought it to the park! Couldn’t she have said to her little Angel, “We need to leave this in the car”?
Devil starts to weep, Angel continues to blow her G.D bubbles, and I, feeling like I am going to blow myself, try to distract Devil with others things…like some really fun rocks and sticks I see lying around. Finally Devil bored with me, turns and goes on the slide. After a few minutes Angel joins her, and my friend and I start to chat. After a bit, I see Devil come down the slide and look around. She sees Angel now playing in the sand box. Slowly...slowly, she moves towards the coveted bubbles, and quietly takes out the wand.
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” From across the playground Angel comes sprinting across the grass. “My bubbles!”
A tussle ensues as both children try to gain ownership of the magical wand.
“Now Devil”, says Angel’s mother, galloping over. “Can I have the wand? This is Angel’s wand and her special new toy. Please don’t grab it from her.”
(Was she for real?)
Devil however, was not going to be turned away that easily.
“No,” she says, stamping her feet. “My turn.”
(I smile inwardly. You go girl!)
Angel's mother gives her a look of complete annoyance.
“Well then,” she says with a big sigh, “I'm sorry. I guess we need to put the bubbles away Angel. It is just too hard for the Devil to share.”
(Huh? What sharing?)
Angel starts to cry and her mother consoles her, “Sorry honey. You can’t have the bubbles if Devil is going to have a hard time.”
(Huh? Now it’s our fault?)
A few weeks later, after I have calmed down, and my husband is sick of hearing about this incident from me I invited Angel and her mom over to vist.
We sent the girls off to play and sat down for a cup of coffee, when suddenly we hear yelling.
“My doll!” yelled Devil.
“NO! My doll!” said Angel.
Angel’s mother rushed over. “Now Devil, Angel just wants a turn. You need to share your toys. Give her a turn with the doll. Now.”
Apparently my daughter needs to share but yours doesn't? Needless to say, this playdate ended pretty soon. I am not sure when I can get up the nerve to stomach another one.
So, here is the thing about sharing. It is hard. It is not in the nature of toddlers or preschools, or probably many of us, to freely share our “special” things, but, we all need to learn how to do it. Our number one job as a parent is to teach. Teach respect, manners, sharing, all kinds of things. There are several things we as parents can do to teach about sharing and make it a bit easier. First of all, try to see the whole sharing game from a three year old's viewpoint. Let's say you get a brand new sports car. It is shiny, and red, and super cool. You purposely park it in front of your house, making sure it is visible for all the neightbors to see. Soon, one by on, they start to creep out of their houses and come over to stand around the car, oohing and ahhing at it's beauty. You stand there, your chest puffed out, proud and basking in their envy, when suddenly one of them says, "Hey, can I take it for a quick spin around the block?" Your face falls, and you are about to say, "No way!", when out of the corner of your eye you see your spouse standing there, arms folded, staring at you...with a disapproving look. Slowly he/she shakes their head back and forth. So, reluctantly, you hand over your keys to the idiot who asked. "Make it quick!" you snap, and "And don't scratch it." You stand there gnashing your teeth as your friend pulls away, but you let your friend enjoy his/her five minutes with your new toy. Congratulations, you have learned to share! And, now you know how a three years old feels when they have a new doll, or bat, or bucket of bubbles and you ask them to share. It sucks! But, while you realize that your car (you hope) is coming back, and that it is in fact your car, not your friends car, preschoolers don't quite get this yet. Young children don’t have a sense that the item in question will be returned to them. For all they know, the other child will take it away, forever! Which is partially why they don't like to share. They are have yet to establish a sense of possession, and continuity.
Here's another thing, if you aren't willing to share your car, perhaps you shouldn't have parked it in front of the house for all to see! Of course, I am being a bit silly. Adults don't really share their expensive automobiles, and you aren't exepcted to hide your sports car in the garage, but there is something to be learned about flashing around items that you aren't prepared to share. Here is the parenting lesson to be gleaned from that, don’t take “unshareable” things to the park! It really isn't fair to expect your child to share their new toy, and it isn't fair to expect other peers not to want to use the item. It is best to leave the special toy elsewhere, at home or in the car. Also, before play dates allow your child to pick out a few items they don’t want to share and put them away, with the expectation that aside from those two or three things, everything else is open to all the children.
Quick story about this idea however, when my niece was small she was expecting a play date to come over. My sister told her to go to her toy filled room and pick out the toys she wasn't willing to share, then put them in her closet so they're wouldn't be any arguing with her friend. She left her three year old to the task and went to make brownies for the kids. When she came back a few minutes later she found a spotless room and a child leaning against a bulging closet door that would not shut.
"What are you doing?" she asked her daughter. " Where are all your toys?"
"I put all my special toys in here," said my niece, pointing to the closet door, "but," She proudly pointed to an old, three-wheeled, broken down truck left by itself in the middle of the floor. " I can share that one!"
We laugh about this all the time, and yes, my niece is a good sharer now (she is seventeen), but there is a lesson here, everything is special to kids. It is not that they are selfish in a mean way, but they are self centered. This is their world, their stuff, their parents, their house. Mine, mine, mine. The world revolves around them and their feelings. They are not going to care about sharing and they can’t put themselves into someone else shoes. We need to teach them over time, as their capacity for understanding matures, to share and care about others. These two things together will eventually develop into a sense of empathy for others, and the realization that they are part of larger world. My sister's task then, was to help her daughter see that she and her friend really would have more fun if there were more toys to play with, and to gently coax some of these "special" toys out of the closet.
I have found that play dates with preschoolers are often not fun. There is a lot of arguing, tears and stress, but they are a necessary evil in the journey of learning. By ages 7-8 most kids are able to share pretty willingly, and know enough to care about their peers feelings. These prosocial behaviors and feelings lead to children who are able to get along well with other. You wil actually begin to see them offering their toys to others, as they start to realize that sharing means more fun for both of them.
As parents, we should model sharing for our children, encourage them to share their toys, praise them when they do share, role play through games different ways to share, and if something is truly special allow them to put it away during a play date. And please, watch your reaction to both your child’s and other children's behavior. We all think our child is the best, and perfect, but remember, no child is ever completely an Angel, or a Devil.