When do you encourage your child to ‘give up’ a toy? When is it ok for them to keep the toy for as long as they want? Is it ok for your child to keep playing on the swing, even though another child is waiting for their turn? What do you do when your child erupts into tears because another child won’t let them have a turn? These sound like insignificant issues…. But they can make or break you in the world of playground politics.
There is a blog article going around the mothers’ group forums at the moment, where a mum is justifying why her child shouldn’t have to share. You can read it here. She talks about her school’s policy where “a child can keep a toy as long as they want to.”She feels that insisting children share isn’t reflective of real life. She gives the example of grocery shopping, that we don’t cut in front of others because we don’t want to have to wait. She says that,“I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it.” But I think she is only seeing part of the picture. I think human relationships are much more complex. They are not black and white, but grey.
Perhaps let me explain through some examples. Your child is at the park. They are enjoying the swings. Another child comes up and wants to have a turn. I think this is where it’s grey. The choice is not between your child staying on the swing as long as they like OR getting off immediately to let the other child have a turn. There is a third choice. Your child continues to enjoy the swing for a period of time and then they get off. They share. I don’t think getting off a swing to let another child have a turn is teaching the child who is waiting that they can have something just because they want it. The other child is learning to wait and that if they wait, they may be rewarded. Your child is learning that enjoyment does not only come from playing on the swing, but also that enjoyment can be gained from seeing how much fun another child can have due to their act of kindness. By finishing their turn and allowing another child to play, they can see that another child is now having fun as a direct result of their choice to ‘give the swing up’.
Ok, let’s tackle a trickier scenario. In the park scenario, nobody ‘owns’ the swings. What happens when another child comes over for a play date and wants to play with a toy your child is playing with? Your child doesn’t want to give the toy up. They own the toy after all. It’s their toy. Soon all hell breaks loose and your child is crying out, “It’s mine!” What do you do?
Not so clear here. For a start I think you need to put some thought into this before you have another child visit. As adults, we don’t share everything we own. We have our favourite sweater, or pen, etc that we wouldn’t share with other people. So I think it’s unrealistic to expect our children to share everything. But this can be problematic when another child has come over to play. There are a few things you can do in this situation. The easiest is to be prepared. When we know other children are coming over to play, I ask my daughter what she wants to pack away. She has the option to pack away toys she doesn’t want to share. I don’t expect her to share everything. When she was too little to understand this concept, I packed away her favourite toys. You know the toys, the ones that they would be devastated about if they were broken. These are the toys I don’t think my daughter should have to share. There are even some toys that I pack away. Usually because their are new or so expensive that I’d be upset if they were broken. Keep in mind that there are also toys my daughter only plays with when her little brother is in having a nap. Either because he’s too young (the toy might have small parts, etc) or the toys are too delicate. At times we’ve been caught out and another child has secured possession of one of these favourite toys, much to the absolute horror of my daughter. Cue my daughter’s panic/meltdown. Now, if this is a toy I suggested she put away and she refused – I think the toy is fair game. I take my mid-meltdown daughter aside and explain to her that she chose to leave it out, so she now must share it. If she can’t share it, she shouldn’t leave it out. She learns a hard lesson for next time. However, if this toy was discovered – perhaps because the visiting child wandered into a room they weren’t supposed to, then I remove the toy from them and explain that it is a special toy. Usually I know the child well enough to know what their special toy is. Usually once the connection is made to their special toy, they get it. Children aren’t stupid. I keep it all light hearted but I am also firm. Not everything needs to be shared. So far I haven’t encountered a child or parent that thinks this is unreasonable. After all, we all have things we would prefer not to share.
Ok, third scenario. What happens if your child doesn’t want to share. Do you make them give up a toy they are playing with? This is where I differ from the author of the other article. I want my child to be raised in a society, where society is above the individual. Where it is better to give than to receive. That doesn’t mean I want her to feel she has to give up everything purely because somebody else wants it. I think I’ve made it clear that I will be teaching her there are certain things you don’t give up. But she also needs to learn she can’t always have what she wants purely because she wants it or she got there first. I’d like her to understand that in order to live as a community in this world, we need to work together. It’s give and take. Sometimes it’s your turn to take, but you must also give. It’s a really tough lesson. It’s not black and white. I’d like her to gain pleasure not just from playing with the toy herself, but to also take pleasure from seeing the joy she can give others by sharing it.
Years from now, when my daughter is older and standing in the grocery queue, I’d like her to look around and not just passively wait her turn. Maybe then she’ll notice the older lady who has trouble standing with her arthritis, and let her go in front of her… Or perhaps she’ll notice the man who seems distracted and in a hurry (perhaps because he’s ducked out to pick up something and he’s left his wife at home with screaming children who are waiting on the essential ingredient necessary to complete dinner). Maybe she’d let him jump in too. It’s these little acts of kindness, acts that somebody doesn’t have to do, that makes our world a much nicer place to live in.
I agree with the author of the other article, “Let’s teach our kids how to cope with disappointment, because it happens. And we won’t always be there to fix it for them. Let’s teach them how they can get things they want through diligence, patience, and hard work.” But I don’t think we teach them that by not letting them have a turn. I think there are far better ways of teaching them that lesson. I think we teach more valuable life lessons by teaching our children to take turns and share. I think we teach our children that the world is bigger than them and their wants. We are part of a much bigger world. So let’s be a part of that world, a part of a wider community.