As Miss E becomes firmly entrenched in the toddler years, grabbing and demanding and generally believing most of the things within her sight to be “mine,” sharing has becoming an increasingly charged topic. It came up recently in conversation among a group of mothers I admire and trust, following a recent blog post making the outraged rounds among parents on Facebook.
I won’t speak to the specifics of the scenarios the writer mentioned in her original post, because I don’t think it’s productive. Every parent and every child is different, and our expectations and temperaments are different, too, so talking about what I do or don’t agree with isn’t my aim. But I’m also conflicted, because I’ve made decisions as a parent that leave me sometimes feeling a little jerky in public. And of course that makes me want to write about them.
I don’t make Miss E share. She’s not even 2 yet, and I know that many of those pro-social behaviors are simply beyond her understanding right now. I do believe she’s capable of being compassionate and have seen her do some very tender things for other children in distress. But while I’m always eager to comment on the positive things she does in the hopes of reinforcing those impulses, I want those impulses to be where her sensibilities come from, not directives from me.
I treat sharing, as I do nearly all of the possible sources of conflict in my daughter’s life, as something she needs to work out on her own with her fellow tiny compatriots. Unless someone is about to get smacked or clubbed with a toy, I don’t intervene. Of course the trickiest situation for me to navigate as a parent, at least for now, is when she takes a toy from another child, or when they take a toy from her. I’ve found Janet Lansbury’s usage of sportscasting – stating aloud a simple play-by-play of what’s happening – to be extremely helpful, paired with validating her feelings of frustration when things aren’t going the way she wants them to. (Even just re-reading this I can already see how I could do a better job, and how this skill can evolve for the language-rich years between 2 and 3.)
There have been times where other parents have insisted their children share, and times where they haven’t, and as yet I haven’t felt too terrible about having a child who can occasionally be a possessive brute.
Because the thing is, she’s a toddler. Her behavior is normal. And forcing her to give up a toy or entering the fray, as it were, and taking possession of the object myself to decide whose turn it is just doesn’t seem right for me and the way that I’ve chosen to parent. I’m taking the power in that situation; I’m settling the conflict when it’s really not mine to settle. Of course I desperately long for my child not to be a bully, and fighting my own impulse to keep her from appearing that way is incredibly challenging. I totally get why parents want to be more pro-active about teaching their children to share. The feelings we have as parents about the way our children behave might be at the heart of this debate, and rightfully so. I don’t want to seem like the laissez-faire mom who lets her child do whatever she wants. But I also don’t want her to do things just because I tell her to. I want her to do the right thing just because, but the reality is, sometimes she won’t. So I have to figure out what I’m going to teach her, and what she’s going to learn on her own.
And it’s not easy, and there’s no one way, no right way, to do it.