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Why We Don't Make Our Kids Share

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If you have a play date with us or encounter us out in the world somewhere, you may be a bit put off by the fact that I will not insist my child shares with yours when yours is interested in whatever my child is using. My kids don’t have to share. If L is using a toy, that’s her toy until she is done using it. She does not have to give it to another child until she is finished with it.

I am shocked that everywhere we go I hear other parents telling their kids to share with mine. L simply has to look in the general direction of another child’s toy for the other parent to jump in with, “Jonny, share with that little girl!” Why? Why should Jonny stop his important work to give it to that little girl?

Maria Montessori’s entire philosophy of education is based upon the child working independently to achieve his own self-perfection. She observed that young children are innately driven to be productive — working on their own, uninterrupted. Jonny is busy developing himself! He is concentrating and his brain is making all kinds of connections. Why on earth would you want him to stop figuring out the world around him?

Ah, but you say he needs to learn how to interact with other people and socialize? How to be nice and make friends? He will. Naturally. That can’t be forced. Forcing sharing brings about feelings of resentment and possesiveness. Objects then become things to be HAD, rather than things to LEARN FROM.

When you don’t force a child to share her toys, she doesn’t feel the need to protect every possession with her life. She will begin to share spontaneously, happily. She will be excited and delighted to share the experience she is having and to discover new things together.

Young toddlers will not share, and they absolutely should not be expected to. If you have ever studied child development, you know about the three forms of play. Babies engage in solitary play. They play by themselves, with little interest in others playing around them. Young toddlers engage in parallel play. They may be sitting beside another child, but they can not be said to be playing “together” — each has different aims and goals in their play. Older children engage in group play. This is when they are playing together with a common goal, and when they really begin to share naturally.

N is still a baby. She doesn’t much care if L takes a toy from her. I always tell L that if she takes something from N, she has to give her something to replace it. However, if N gets upset that L has taken something from her, L has to give it back and wait until N is finished with it.

L is mainly in the parallel play arena, but she is starting to shift into group play. She does not want to share. She gets very upset when people take the things she is using. This is only natural. It’s developmentally appropriate for her to not share. I never force her to share. Not even with her sister.

Despite the fact that I don’t force my kids to share with each other, they do anyway. L frequently notices that N wants something she has, so she offers it to her. It is always completely internally motivated, and it brings L joy to share with her sister. She shares because she wants to. It is natural and pure and it makes my heart sing. She is naturally learning how to interact with the people around her. She has not [so far!] grown up to be socially inept or a criminal.

Rather than “sharing,” Montessori employs turn-taking. The work a child is using is not hers FOREVER. It’s simply hers until she is finished working with it. Then it is returned to the shelf and another child may use it. This IS something that young toddlers are capable of doing, and that is what we do in our house.

So if you come to my house and I don’t make my child give what she’s using to your child right away, don’t be offended. I’m not just rude. My child DOES have appropriate social skills. We’re just following the child over here, the way Montessori intended.

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