I have four children ages 10, 7, 4, and 3. They are all home all day with me (unless we’re out at activities, field trips, homeschool playgroups, doctor’s appointments, the YMCA…you get the picture) and so we occasionally have squabbles. If I’m really honest, there are some times that it’s more than occasional! There is one thing, however, that they rarely argue over- their toys. Maybe I’m just blessed with children who shun possessions and show Jesus-like selflessness naturally….and if you believe that I have some swamp land in Florida I’d love to sell you!
What I believe is the reason for their ability to share joyfully and kindly is a very simple one: I never force them to share.
We’ve all experienced the young child at church or at the park who comes over and takes a toy from our child. I’m sure on many occasions that curious child has been ours! The most common response in our culture today is, “Oh, let him play with it, Johnny. You have to share!”
What if Johnny doesn’t want to share? What if he’s intent on playing and learning with his toy, and breaking his concentration will cause a meltdown? And if a meltdown occurs, who will the parent blame? Little Johnny, of course!
My aversion to forced sharing comes from my Montessori upbringing and the research I’ve done since becoming a parent. One of the reasons we chose to homeschool in the first place was to avoid the imposition of unnatural breaks and transitions in our children’s learning. The bell, ringing to signal the end of a middle school class, interrupts the focus of a child intent on a task, teaches them that their concentration doesn’t matter, and eventually shortens their attention span. The same thing can happen when we allow another child (whether friend, sibling, or stranger) to interrupt the flow of concentration on a given task. In addition, forced sharing teaches our children to cling more tightly to their possessions, not less, because they are never sure when something will be taken from them.
In our home we encourage sharing and taking turns. We teach that people are more important than things, and relationships are worth more than lots of stuff. We praise our children when they choose to share. But it has to be that: their choice.
We also allow them a “protected” space- their rooms. Anything that they do not want to share (for any reason. Again, it’s their choice.) can remain in their rooms. Anything they leave in common areas of the house is fair game for a sibling to use as long as that sibling is using it respectfully.
When a child takes something from one of my children in a park or at church, I simply say, “He’s using that right now. I’m sure if you ask nicely, he will let you use it when he’s done.” My child might then choose to let the other child borrow it right away, and they would get a pat on the back from me for being kind and selfless. If it’s my child doing the grabbing, I give the toy back to the other child and say to him, “I won’t allow my child to take this. If you choose to share later, that would be great. But it’s your choice.”
Keeping the peace, when it comes to possessions, is often just a matter of respect. I find that it works well in our home and hope it continues to bear fruit in the future.
Christine Hiester is a Christian, homeschooling mom to three boys and a girl, ranging in age from 9 to 2 years old. She is a musician by trade, eclectic in homeschool style, and continues to grow and learn along with her children in this journey of life and discipleship at home. Visit her blog at Fruit in Season.