One of these practices is forcing young children to share.
Parents make children share because they want them to have good friendships and to be compassionate. In order to get children to share, adults use a variety of different strategies: threatening to punish, offering reward, emotional guilt, and enforced time limits seem to be the most common.
When adults threaten to punish children if they don't share or reward them if they do (ex: "If you don't share your toy, you won't get to play video games later" or "You're going on time-out if you don't play nice") the children may end up sharing, but their motive for sharing is centered around themselves. A recent New York Times article (understanding-how-children-develop-empathy) recommended never using external rewards to motivate prosocial behavior. If a child does a kind act only because she get a reward, doesn’t it defeat the purpose? When adults use punishments and rewards to encourage sharing they are not teaching the child to share out of generosity, they are teaching them to share for their own benefit. It turns a prosocial act into an act of for the self. It takes away the opportunity for the child to be generous.
Sometimes adults use emotional guilt to encourage children to share (ex: "Be nice children share your toys" or "She shared her toys with you, and now you are being selfish"). This strategy undermines a child's ability to be honest and take care of herself in social relationships. He may internalize the idea that 'nice' people always give to others, even when they don't want. He may come to believe that if he wants to have friends he has to give away things he doesn't want to give. This is not the model we want them to follow! Think of that same child 15 or 25 years down the line, not able to set personal boundaries with friends or partners, not able to say no when necessary. Would you want your 13 child to give away something valuable to him? Or your sixteen year old daughter to say yes to sharing her time with someone, even though she didn't want to? No! Learning to say no to others request is a vital skill. It's a skill that many adults, especially woman, struggle with. Healthy relationships involve moments of generosity to others and to yourself.
If we want children to be able to give to others and able to say no sometimes, forcing or coercing them to share doesn't make a lot of sense. We want to them to develop honest and fulfilling relationships. To do this they need to learn to listen to their own desires and needs, and have empathy for the experience of others.
The ability to truly share with others, develops slowly along with the experience of receiving the generosity of others, the ability to understand someone else's perspective, and to feel compassion and empathy. It will develop over time in the context of loving, compassionate relationships.
Here's what I want children to learn in relationship to sharing:
- When I share my toys (food,clothes, time, etc) with others it can deepen our relationship as we enjoy a similar experience.
- Through sharing materials, individuals in the community can get needs met.
- It feels good to give to others.
- I can say no to sharing, when I need to, and still be in a fulfilling relationship.
For tips on how to support children's conflict over toys see Part Two: "http://www.developingthroughrelationship.com/1/post/2013/08/be-nice-and-share-your-toys-some-healthy-alternatives-to-coercing-children-to-share-part-two.html
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