When you are a parent, you look forward to your child’s first words, first signs of affection, first jokes… My daughter has been expressing her feelings for several months now: « Mummy, I love you » or « Mummy I love so much! », just as in one of her favourite books «Guess how much I love you» by Sam Mc Bratney and Anita Jeram. Every morning, after waking up, we cuddle and kiss. I think all these moments are extremely precious in our everyday life.
Obviously, spending days with a toddler is not just about kisses and cuddles, is it? At the moment, my daughter is going through the « NO » stage expressing much anger and refusing things. I mentioned it the following article: « No! » : toddler refusal or the path to autonomy 2/2 . And now we deal with all those emotional reactions whenever one of her friends (or me or my husband) wants to play with HER toys! And this is what I want to discuss with you today. How should we react when our child does not want to lend or share? Is it a sign of selfishness and his or her lack of generosity?
We all have common values that we want to pass on to our children. These values vary according to families and people’s education. In my family, the important value is sharing. To us sharing represents human solidarity and mutual aid. I was clearly in distress when I realised that my daughter did not want to share her toys or any other object that belonged to her. My first reaction was very clumsy, because I forced her to share the object of the conflict. Obviously, this method did not work. Looking back, I think I was worried about people’s opinion on my daughter’s behaviour. I was afraid that she would be considered as selfish or capricious. Then, as any self-respecting parent☺️I turned to books on education. And I experienced a GREAT relief!
I learned that my daughter’s behavior did not fall into category of «selfishness » or « capriciousness». Before the age of three or four, the child has not yet developed the sense of ownership. In her book « I’ve tried it all » (« J’ai tout essayé » ) Isabelle Filliozat, explains it clearly:
« It’s neither selfishness nor whim, the child just begins to explore the boundaries between « me » and the others. He or she does not quite understand the difference between « I », « me », « my”, « mine » and « you », « your », « yours ». The child defends his or her own territory, identifies it with his or her toys and does not want to give them to others. But be careful, « it’s mine » does not necessary translate into « possession » in the sense adults think of it. »
The more we force our children to share, the more it strengthens their sense of ownership. I have observed it with my daughter: if one of her friends plays with one of her toys, her interest in the latter increases five times or more! Yes, THIS ball, left behind for several months, suddenly becomes THE object with which she wants to play now, at the very moment.
« We want our children to experience the pleasure of « conscious sharing ». But forcing children to share only makes them stick to their belongings even more. »
Jealousy and rivalry between siblings (« Jalousies et rivalités entre frères et soeurs » ) by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Finally, sharing is something that is learned and it does take time to learn it! We can encourage our children to share their belongings by helping them to learn two concepts: the right to own things and the frustration of not having what the child wants.
« It is necessary to teach the child the two complementary aspects: the meaning of ownership and its rights: « You have the right to keep it, it’s yours. » and the frustration and recognition of the rights of others. Learning all that is not so simple as it takes time».
I’ve tried it all (« J’ai tout essayé ») by Isabelle Filliozat
After reading the above-mentioned books, I literally changed my attitude towards my daughter’s behaviour and took the risk of being labelled as the mother who bends to her child’s whims. Here is my method:
When a fight breaks out, I put on my negotiator’s suit☺️: « Do you want to lend your puzzle to your friend? He has never done it before and would be so happy to do it. Once he has finished, he will give it back to you and it will be your turn to do it, if you want of course. »
If after my speech, my daughter still wants to keep this « famous » puzzle (the probability is 50%), I insist on describing aloud what her friend might feel, without making her feel guilty of course: « You see, I think your friend is really sad about not being able to have this puzzle, he really wanted to do it ».
If this attempt fails, I end up making it clear to her friend that my daughter wants to keep the toy, and that I am sure one day she will be glad to lend it to him. Then, I encourage my daughter to give her friend another toy, a toy that she is happy to lend.
And this reminds me of what Celine Alvarez describes in her book:
« Our responsibility should not be underestimated. One beautiful morning, we laugh as we see our children do as we do: they talk like us, move and react like us. It is often rather funny, surprising, sometimes difficult because the child mimes us, copies our attitudes. We « taught » him/her these attitudes unconsciously, while living together. We think children imitate us on purpose, but it would be more accurate to say that they show on the outside what has been encoded inside. So you have to hear and see it whether you like it or not, all these little things we are not directly aware of built in our children’s personalities. Our attitudes prepare theirs. It must be said, repeated and heard. We must act now, both at home and at school».
The child’s natural laws (« Les lois naturelles de l’enfant ») by Céline Alvarez
So we should set a good example for our children:
• by sharing with them a piece of our sandwich that they love so much,
• by accepting to lend them our belongings with joy,
• by showing that lending is omnipresent in our society
As you can see, this is not a miracle solution but an attitude that helps to accompany my daughter in learning to share, which is a long process. Our attitude protects her and helps her understand that what she feels is normal at her age. To conclude this article, I invite you to watch two documentaries. The first shows us a pivotal phase in child’s development, around 4 years and a half, when he or she becomes aware of his own points of view and those of the others. At this stage, children are capable of cognitive empathy, they are able to put themselves in somebody’s shoes. Being able to imagine other people’s intentions or desires helps children learn to collaborate with others or manipulate them.
The second documentary shows how empathy (the capacity that makes us social beings able to adopt the point of view of others while remaining ourselves) evolves through education and brain development: Empathy (Entre toi et moi l’empathie, english version).