Growing up with two siblings, some of the biggest fights I remember were when we fought over a favourite toy. I still remember vividly one particular almighty row in the back of the car.
My little brother kept snatching a little troll with bright orange hair that I had brought with me to play with on the long journey. I don’t think he even really wanted it that badly but he knew it was winding me up to take it from me. We must have been screaming and shouting at each other really loudly, as this is also one of the few times I recall my mother losing her patience with us both. She ended up yelling and shrieking at us to stop the fight.
The worst thing was (and the reason I probably remember this incident so vividly) was that HE ended up with the troll. Mum had just had enough of the bickering and squabbling and had ended up making me share the toy with my brother because he was littler than me.
I always flashback to that day when I am told that we should make our children share.
Now that I’m a mother
Looking back now that I’m a mum myself, I can totally get why my mother flipped and took action to stop us tearing strips off each other over a tiny plastic toy. We must have been driving her insane.
But I also remember clearly the feeling of complete injustice and frustration. It just wasn’t fair.
I think that memory is one of the reasons why I don’t make my own children share. Right from the get go, when they were both little, I never made them hand over a toy just because I said so, or stop what they were enjoying playing with or doing just because their sister wanted a go.
I’m no pushover though and there are rules. It’s just that having to share is just not one of them. Let me explain.
First of all both my girls have one or two toys that are really special to them. They’ve both got a scraggy, loved comforter.
One’s a rabbit and one’s a dog and they carry them around wherever they go. The golden rule is that they never have to share these. Unless they want to, of course (they never want to!).
To make things easier we put these cherished special toys on a high shelf when their friends come round to play, so they’re safe and out of the way.
Most of the other toys in the house are to share. But if one child is playing with a toy and the other one wants it, then they can ask for a turn or ask to join in but if they are told ‘no’ then they just, have to wait.
Don’t get me wrong my kids are not saints with an unusually zen approach to life. For a start they’re 4 and 6. Ages not known for their skills of reasoning and patience. But, the difference is, that instead of sorting out a spat by insisting they share I use other techniques.
I’ll get out a different toy and encourage them to play with that while they wait for their turn. Or I might grab a board game or a craft activity that we can do together.
I’ll find a way to move them away from their sibling who is playing with the desired toy by asking them to come and help me do something exciting, like mix up some cupcake mixture in the kitchen. Because I’ve done this from the get go both my girls are now getting pretty used to the rules and are much better at waiting.
I was having coffee with one of my mum friends recently and I was telling her how I didn’t make my children share. She works as a teacher in a Montessori nursery and said that this was the same approach they had in the playroom.
She told me about the simple rule of the nursery – if someone is playing with something then it is not available until they put it back on the shelf. She explained that because this rule was so clear and simple, the children just followed it and there were very rarely any issues.
Another lesson learned
I suppose by not making my children share, I’ve been teaching them to wait. And waiting is hard for little kids so I help them find something to do to help pass the time and keep their patience.
I even empathise with them about how frustrating it is to have to wait their turn. But I still don’t make them share.
I actually think that waiting is a really important skill to learn. In this world nobody gets what they want just because they want it. Sometimes even when we want something really badly we have to be patient.
I’m hoping that my not making my children share but by teaching them about waiting and being patient will help them as they go further into the big wide world. And just because I’m not making my children share, that doesn’t mean that I’m not teaching them to be kind and to care.