Expert Commentary: An Important Lesson in Sharing

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Sharing is a big part of growing up. Children learn to share by playing with other children. That's why "only" children have trouble with sharing unless they learn to play in extended family, play groups, preschool or day care.

Children who are three and four often misinterpret "sharing." Many three year olds who are still playing in tandem often consider their tandem play mate as a kind of servant, a kind of generous parent who will accommodate their every whim and wish. When the second child regards the first child in the same light, then suddenly "He isn't sharing!"

And so selfishness is born. I was watching children play football the other day. The generous children ran with the ball and laughed when they were tackled. The selfish children would grab the ball hold it firmly to their chests and then crumble into a blob of clay and whimper when someone tried to take the ball from them.

I finally said to one of the worst game stoppers, "Is it that you want them all to admire you holding the ball?"

He looked at me as if he was thinking, “I just can’t give it away.”  But he said, “It’s mine.”

"But if it's only yours, then the game stops."

This week we had 30 toys to test we won in a toy contest. Lots of the toys were too old for us, so we painstakingly took the time to establish new rules. With the Monopoly game, six children sat quietly at the table and sort of established a new set of rules. They rolled the dice, counted the dots, and then moved their marker around the board. The first man to get to Free Parking won. The children were delighted. They took turns and shared.

The selfish kids were all trying to get the kinesthetic toys. There were five: a karate kick me set, a basket ball over the door game, a mechanized race car set, and two remote controlled trucks.

The karate punching bag was a big hit, but the children realized quickly it was not a fun thing to do if one person held it and another kicked it. They also realized how tedious it was when one child sat on it so no one could kick it or punch it. After five days of playing with it, one or two kids settled with it, and the rest found other games.

The basketball presented other options. It came with two balls. When both balls were in play, no one took a turn. The basketballs went flying everywhere. When we took one of the balls away, the children lined up and shot by turn. It was an interesting lesson to teachers about the natural rhythms of children’s order. 

The basketball was perhaps the best toy we won. It has a lot of options, buttons, whistles and it lights up. The children quickly found out how it worked, and the selfish ones kept turning it off as the players tried to really play. When it was the selfish kids' turn, they were so caught up in the buttons, they just threw the ball senselessly.

One of the best moments we experienced in sharing is a wonderful game called Snorta. Snorta is a "think first and act second" game. All the children have an animal and a deck of cards with several animal pictures. When cards are drawn and there is a match, the children have to call each other's animal sounds.

When one child helps another, with "You have to say moooo, because then you will win," you can't help laughing and loving the child who is letting the other child win.

Winning is the necessary outcome of playing a game. Sharing the pieces is the necessary strategy of playing the game well. Taking turns is the method of playing the game at all, and it's all about learning. We learned a lot this week, and the kids had a ball.

Everything a child does is a learning experience, and that’s what parents and teachers should keep in mind. Everything from receiving a toy and saying thank you  to taking it out of the box, to sharing it are all learning experiences that should be made fun, but guided by the adults who love children.