I’d like you to put yourself in the following scenario:

You’re a teacher, on your lunch break. You are making copies of a math quiz for your class to take tomorrow. Halfway through your copying, a fellow teacher stands really close to you, very much in your personal space. She sighs loudly and says “Are you almost DONE YET???”. You respond “Almost! Just let me finish! Please!”. She gets even closer and starts touching the copier buttons and messes up your papers. “HEY!” you say, “I’m not finished! I’m using this!”. The principal walks by, looks at you disapprovingly, and says, in a condescending tone, “In THIS school, we SHARE the office equipment. Give her a turn.”

Now, imagine the same scenario, only you’re four, and the copier is a train set and the principal is your parent. Ouch. Kind of makes you think about sharing a little differently, doesn’t it?

My younger son is 18 months, and my older son is four. Playing together is something that is relatively new between them. Up until now, my older son has pretty much had the right to all the “fun” toys…since he was the only one old enough to use them. Now, suddenly, he has a brother who out of seemingly nowhere can lay claim to the toys. As my older son put it “He’s like a half-baby. He can play with stuff, but he doesn’t share ANYTHING and doesn’t know any real words! It’s AWFUL.”

Of course, I want my sons to share. I want them to think of the needs and wants of others, and I want them to give freely to those they care about. But I also want them to know how to be patient, understanding, and how to wait. “SHARE the toys” so far means absolutely nothing to my 18 month old, and leads to pure resentment in my four year old, and to be honest, I have a hard time blaming him most of the time. One kid always ends up smug. Either the non-sharing kid smugly continues to use the wanted toy while the other looks on wistfully, or the forced-to-share kid looks furious while the toy-having-kid smiles victoriously.

Our only solution, so far, has been to have really basic ground rules:

1. The living room is a family room. If you are playing there, you have to be willing to share.

2. Your bedroom is your space. You can play in your bedroom alone with things you don’t feel like sharing.

3. You can play together in each other’s room if you are both feeling like sharing your toys. If not, you should play alone.

So far, this has really helped us. Sharing is not so forced all the time. I like the idea of making it optional. I have always wondered if making kids share really does anything to make them more altruistic later on in life. My guess is, at least at the toddler and preschool ages, probably not.

What are your rules for sharing? Do you have memories of being forced to share with a sibling? Do you make your kids share?

Apparently neither kid is feeling particularly generous on this day.

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