The “toddler’s rule of property” states that, “If it’s mine, it’s mine; if I want it, it’s mine and if it’s yours it’s mine.” or something along those lines. Of course we want to teach our children to share. But to what extent do we need to require them to share?
We love to have friends come over and play! Our family has always adopted the idiom, “The more the merrier”. As families gather though, “situations” arise. It’s easy to see things in extremes, either you share everything or you don’t have to share anything. I think that there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration when we talk about sharing.
Factors to consider:
At home: In our home some items are considered “family property” and some are personal property. Toothbrushes, clothing and school books are all personal items. Things that are received as a gift or are purchased with one’s own money are also personal. Family property are the things shared by all members of the household. Teaching our children the difference is a foundational principle that will also apply in their adult life.
Siblings vs. Company: Siblings KNOW what stuff belongs to them, what belongs to others and what belongs to the family. When friends come over to play, they do not have this same knowledge. When company is over, typically we share both personal and family toys. Most often when this happens, our children want to share their favorite toys. However, there are times when a person owns a specific item and it is deeply treasured. When I have seen my children say “I don’t really want to share that” it is when it’s something very breakable or irreplaceable like a souvenir or momento from a grandparent. If the owner doesn’t want to share that item, we honor their decision. When a visiting child is playing with someone’s personal property, more grace is given then when a sibling is playing with that same item without permission.
At the park/away from your home: If we are on a public playground, it is expected that we will share the playground. Being considerate in taking turns on equipment is totally reasonable. However, if a child has brought a toy to the park to play with, that item is not community property. If my child (or yours) chooses to share it that is fine. However, if the owner of the toy doesn’t want to share it, that is fine too. I think we have all been at a public place and seen a parent scold a child for not sharing their personal property. I believe it is good and healthy to teach our children to respect personal property rights.
In families we have plenty of opportunities to share. At a restaurant we order family style. Each person gets an entree but the sides are shared. We all drink water but on occasion a child is allowed to spend their money on a soda. That drink is theirs and they do not have to share. (Usually the one who buys a special drink declares “family germs” and passes around their drink for everyone to try.) As clothing and shoes are outgrown, they are traded from person to person. Division of chores is a very regular thing… “teamwork makes the dream work” right? Families give us opportunities for life learning, sharing is just one of the lessons and it happens naturally in the home.
We can train our children to have eyes for others. This means that when they see someone who needs a kind word or a friend to play with, they step in. Sometimes, that means sharing the things most precious to them. As they learn compassion for their fellow man, sharing won’t be overly difficult. Forcing children to share may not have as big of an impact as training their heart to love. We have a saying in our home, “in matters of preference, prefer the other.” So look for opportunities to cultivate eyes for others and opportunity to show preference to others. Let the sharing come from the heart.
The focus of sharing should be the heart.
It seems like it’s common today for people to have a mindset that declares all property to be common property, so that everything is “fair”. On its face, this seems to make sense, but consider this: if all property is “common property” and no property is “personal” or “private property,” when will any of us ever have a chance to “share our personal property from our heart?” God gave each of us freedom, in Christ, to do good or to not do good. It is that freedom that warms our heart when one of our children chooses to give up one of their “personal toys” to a stranger at the park or to a sibling in our home; it shows that their heart is turning to Christ.
As you navigate life with your children, look for opportunities to cultivate compassion. Recognize and acknowledge when they make choices to share. Intentionally set up situations where they can easily share. But, protect their equally valid decision to keep something that they hold dear for their exclusive private use. May we raise children who with compassion and out of the overflow of their hearts choose to share.