Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The S-Word

Bug and I took a trip to the Natural History Museum the other day.

He absolutely loved everything about it, but he was especially enamored of all the hands-on exhibits. Of course, hands-on activities can also cause problems when more than one kid wants to play.

The museum had this one computer in particular that my son thought was super neat. It featured a bunch of wildflowers native to California, and you could click on individual ones to see a lovely painting of the flower, a picture of a dried specimen, and a lovely photo of it growing in the wild.

Shortly after Bug sat down at this computer, another little boy sidled up. I have no idea how old he was, because I'm a terrible judge of that, but I could tell that he was definitely older than Bug. So this boy came over and said, "I want a turn!"

Bug just ignored him, completely enthralled as he was. So I turned to the boy and said "You can play with it once he's done."

The boy watched as Bug looked at a second flower, going back and forth between the different pictures, and then started to reach for the controls, saying "It's my turn now."

To which I replied, "It'll be your turn once he's all done." The boy gave me a confused look, watched for another minute, and then got bored and wandered off.

So I'm just going to put this out here. I absolutely hate the current standard of "sharing." Learn to share. Let him have a turn. You're all done now; someone else wants to play. Why is this what we're teaching our kids these days? I don't understand it. It seems like many parents are teaching their children that instant gratification is their due, that once they express interest in something, they deserve to have it right now.

And if you dare to challenge the status quo, if you're that parent that doesn't force your kid to give up something of theirs the moment another child asks for it, whether it's toys or food of anything else, you get dirty looks and under-the-breath comments disparaging your parenting skills.

I see it all the time. A parent forces their child off the swings within seconds of another child saying they want to use it. A mother glares at other parents when the line to go down the slide doesn't move fast enough. One child steals borrows a toy from a second child, and when the second child protests and tries to take it back, their parent tells them that they they've been playing with that toy all day so now they need to share.

He's having fun. So no, I'm not going to make him get off just yet.

It drives me crazy, and it comes from all directions. At the aforementioned museum, my son tried to take a toy dinosaur away from a younger girl, and I redirected him to a different toy (there were plenty of lonely, unattended toys in the area) as the girl's father stepped over and to tell her that she needed to give my son a turn. I pointed out that there were plenty of other toys, and my son could wait until she was done, and the father looked baffled. "She'll play with it all day if you let her," he told me. So? If there are other toys for other kids, why is it a problem to let her play with, even monopolize something she's interested in?

Later that day, we sat down at a table to have a snack. There were already people at the table, and when the woman saw Bug looking longingly at her child's pretzels, she immediately told the boy to give some to my son. Aside from the fact that she never even asked if I was okay with my son eating pretzels, I just can't stand the message this sends. We shouldn't be teaching our children to give their anything of theirs away simply because someone else wants it.

Kids tend to naturally covet things that others have; isn't it better that we teach them not to indulge in that impulse to take? Patience is a useful skill, and I'd rather my son learn to wait for things rather than that the world owes him everything he wants right now.

Don't get me completely wrong. I believe in sharing, but I don't want it to be forced. The desire to share should come from within, not be imposed by others. A child, especially a two- or three-year-old, shouldn't be punished because they don't want to share their toys (I see this all the time too--Since you can't share, we'll just have to go home now.). And I fully recognize that my three-and-a-half-year-old doesn't really understand the concept the way we do as adults.

If my son has brought a pile of toys to the sand pit at the park and another child is eyeing them hopefully, I might encourage Bug to see if the other child wants to play with something he's not currently using. If he's playing with the train table at Barnes & Noble and another child shows up, I point out that someone else would like to play, and maybe he would like to offer them one of the engines so that they can ride the rails with him. If someone else has a toy that he thinks is really cool, I suggest that he ask the other child if they'd be interested in trading it (temporarily, of course) for one of his toys. (And if they're not interested, it's a learning experience: other children are not required to share their toys if they don't want to, just like he's not required to share his. Sharing is a nice thing to do, but in most cases, it's not mandatory.)

Ultimately, I want my son to share for the right reasons. I have no problem with talking to him and helping him to recognize times when it'd be nice to share. Better yet, I talk him through things when possible, so that the idea to share comes from him, rather than from me. I want him to share because it's more fun when everyone can play, and it feels good to let others use your things (so long as they give them back, of course).

And taking turns? I definitely believe in that, as kids can get much more behind this idea. But I don't think someone else should necessarily get a turn the moment they express interest. There's nothing wrong with teaching our kids to wait for the things they want.

In the case of the wildflower computer at the Natural History Museum, the boy did come back awhile later, and while Bug was still pretty absorbed, he'd also had a fair amount of time to play. I told him he could look at three more flowers, and then we'd move on so that others could play too. And after those three flowers were done (we counted down), he got up with absolutely no complaints.


  1. I like your car. I'd like to drive it now! Thank you.
    Lol. Just kidding. You make a great point. As parents, we can teach our children long durations of patience!

    1. Just another angle for why the way so many people teach kids to share is absolutely ridiculous. In real life, if I express an admiration for your phone or the book you're reading (or your car), I can't realistically expect you to just give it to me, or even lend it to me (well, you might lend the book to me... when you're done with it!). Why are we teaching kids that this is the way life works?