Setting the scene: At your favorite local indoor playground, our toddlers are playing together. Soon, the dreaded moment occurs where your child wants the truck my child is playing with and…
I DON’T make him share.
“That’s odd.” you think, as you repeat the typical parental phrase, “Let’s share the toys and play nicely,” as they begin to fight even more fervently over the truck.
I ask my child if he is done with the toy, he responds no and moves away from your child with absolutely no intent on sharing. I allow this to happen and even physically place myself between your child and mine to prevent snatching.
Then something shocking happens. About a minute later he goes over to your child, hands the truck to him, and says “done!” Then he walks away to find another toy to play with.
Why I don’t believe children should be forced to share
In our household, I do not believe in sharing. As a Montessori parent, I believe that a child’s play is their “work.” They work independently to learn their environment and when left to their own devices, young toddlers are driven to be “productive” – learning independence through play. Sharing will come naturally as they move through the early childhood developmental stages.
If you’ve ever studied or read about early childhood development, you know that there are different types of play in young children:
- Babies engage in solitary play – this means that they play by themselves and have no interest in playing with others.
- Young toddlers engage in parallel play – this means you may find your child sitting next to others but still playing independently.
- Older children engage in group play – meaning they play actively with other children. This can come at a wide range of ages as your child develops and is where sharing becomes natural. Children are playing together with a common goal and therefore share naturally to accomplish that goal.
That is why your toddler objects so fervently to sharing and it is a major struggle to get them to do so! They truly aren’t developmentally ready for such an activity so it will continue to be a point of contention until they reach that level of group play maturity.
Forcing them to share before they are developmentally ready to do so can inadvertently teach a number of unwanted lessons such as:
- I should always interrupt what I am doing to give my objects to another person just because they want it.
- Crying/throwing a tantrum gets me the object that I want.
- Authority figures always decide who gets what, even when the object is mine.
- I have no control over who gets things that are mine.
When you project these lessons over the long term of childhood and into adulthood, they are actually the VERY OPPOSITE of what we want to be teaching our children. Unfortunately, these can be the lessons our children take in when they are forced to share.
So what should you do?
Encourage taking turns! This is something that every toddler is capable of learning. As they finish their “work,” they return the toy to the shelf, and then it is free to be played with by another child. Once your child understands the system, you’ll notice play becomes much less of a sharing battle!
Interested in some additional reading? Here are a few books and resources from the experts that discuss this topic in much more detail to help guide you and your family through the sharing journey!