Thoughts & Reflections
Sharing is tough.
We want children to share. But more than wanting them to share, we want them to possess the qualities which aid an individual in being willing to share — kindness, empathy, compassion.
It makes adults feel good to see young children, even babies, giving away part of their cookie, or letting a friend play with their favorite toy.
So often, sharing gets looped in as one of those rules adults impose with only good intentions. “He’s not sharing!” can be heard at playground all over, along with, “But I said I was sorry!”
The trouble with adult rules, with adults making a child share, or say they’re sorry, is that the actions don’t always match the internal feelings.
You push a friend over, say you’re sorry, and then are panicked when they’re crying, with a skinned knee, finding an adult to inform on your transgression.
“Where did we get the idea that someone is supposed to share?”
“I said I was sorry!!!” You say, exasperated that the magical response to hurting a friend didn’t get the response you wanted.
Merely saying, “sorry,” doesn’t always make things better. Your friend is still hurt. You could have been more careful.
The guiltier we feel, the more strenuously we insist, “I SAID SORRY!!” “Sorry” doesn’t make it better. Feeling genuinely sorry, changing behavior next time, not expecting your friend to get over it right away, these are all things that make it better, that pave the way toward reconciliation.
Sharing is the same.
Have you ever heard, from the back seat, or from swiftly running feet around the corner, “She isn’t sharing! She’s supposed to share!”
Where did we get the idea that someone is supposed to share? If it’s supposed to happen, doesn’t it undermine the good will sharing implies? The grace and kindness offered by the sharer?
We can model sharing. We can speak about the positive aspects of sharing.
“I absolutely LOVE this cookie, and I think you might enjoy it, too. Would you like to share a bite with me?”
“These are my favorite coloring books, and I’d love it if you would share this activity with me. It would be so fun to color with you. Would you like to come sit and color?”
We can also model not wanting to share. Not wanting to share is absolutely appropriate.
“I’d rather not share my smoothie right now. Thank you for respecting me.”
“I’d like to keep my lap for myself, and I don’t feel like being touched right now. Thank you for listening.”
“These are my special items. I know you have special items, and you can trust me not to touch them, just as I know I can trust you.”
We can talk about how much fun it is to share a cozy blanket while watching a movie or reading a book together. We can share a bench and a conversation, which is significantly more enjoyable than sitting alone. We share the experience of going to the beach together.
Sharing in a Montessori classroom is also a unique experience. Children share everything, though it might appear they share very little.
Every material the child has been presented is available to them. For a very young child, this might just be one area of the classroom, or even one shelf. For an older child, this might be nearly the whole classroom.
Sharing in the classroom is not having any emotional possession over materials that are on the shelf. This is manifest in, “I was going to do that!” The guide or classroom assistant, or even an adept older child, can help talk a child through this process.
“I can tell that you’re disappointed. It seems like you really wanted to paint. Ann is painting now, so it’s unavailable. Perhaps it will be available later.”
It’s fair to be disappointed. It’s not fair to demand the child put their work away so you can use it. Because children are not required to give their work to someone else who wants it, to artificially share, disappointment is the extent of this experience. There are myriad other materials for the child to use if the material they had their heart set on using is unavailable.
Altruistic tendencies are fostered, rather than demanding that a child share. “It looks like you’re done with snack. Your friends would also like to have snack. How would you feel, if someone sat here for a long time? It’s something to consider.”
By tending to the emotional needs of young children, feeding qualities of compassion and kindness, sharing, genuine apologies, and empathy are natural byproducts, rather than imposed expectations. What else could children learn by changing what we expect from them?
Written by:Charlotte Wood