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Sharing is caring… Or is it?

Luca sharing his car with one of his classmates

The ‘sharing is caring’ message is one of those truths that make up part of our programming. Your parents taught you the message. Your teachers reinforced it. Your friends illustrated it. Your siblings forced you into doing it. Whether you like it or not, if someone asks you to borrow, use or taste something that belongs to you, no matter how you really feel about it, the first thing that pops into your head is that ‘sharing is caring’, as you blurt out the almost automatic response: “Sure! Go ahead!” Sometimes you mean it, sometimes you don’t. But saying no would just make you come across as rude, weird or socially inept. The message is clear. It is logical. It is unquestionable. That is, until you try and teach it to your kids.

When you have kids, you learn that in their early years, kids cannot understand the concept of sharing. You also learn that you can’t actually teach them to share. You can set a good example, teach them about the joys of sharing, how to say no politely, how to compromise, and then wait for them to be good and ready. I’ve read that around the age of three, a child will understand the concept of sharing, but will not necessarily be ready to do it. Most kids are willing to share their toys at around four years of age. Another thing I’ve also learned after my experience with my kids is that these age related rules or guidelines, or whatever you want to call them, a lot of the times are just there to make you feel bad and worry about your kids’ development. I’d have to say that this is one of them.

Trying to teach a child about sharing is one thing. Trying to teach a highly sensitive child who has never broken a toy is something completely different. Maybe not all sensitive people are the same in this regard, but with what I’ve seen with my little boy, it makes sense to me that people who are more sensitive than most tend to be more careful with themselves as well as with their things.

It hit me hardest when we had our second baby and I brought out all of Luca’s old things. His books were all intact, although even as a baby he absolutely loved his books and spent most of his time “handling” them. His toys were brand new! I mean it! I could just stick those things in their boxes and you couldn’t tell that they’d been played with. His clothes, bibs, washcloths, all virtually stain-free. Yes, I did feed him, and not just bland colorless food, but also very orange carrots and deep green spinach. I can tell you that two months through the weaning process with my second, that is not the case anymore.

So it makes sense to me, that a child who cares for his things, on top of being a just a child, would not embrace the ‘sharing is caring’ message wholeheartedly. Most children, naturally, play rough, and that means they put their toys at risk of being broken, which is really secondary compared to what they might do to themselves. That’s what kids do. They’re full of energy and they’re unpredictable. But they’re not all like that, and for the ones who aren’t, sharing can be quite unpleasant.

I have been trying to find effective ways of delivering this seemingly simple message to Luca for quite some time now. When he was very little, I didn’t expect him to really get it, since none of the other kids his age got it anyway. But when he got older, and the other children started to share their toys with their friends, neighbors, siblings, some better than others, but still, it seemed like the majority was starting to get it. But Luca took a very strong stand against the whole thing, absolutely refusing to hand over a toy, but being more than willing to take one away. It drove me crazy really, to watch him play with another child’s toys and then scream when that same child tried to play with his. Luca is very bright, and so one would expect that the mathematics of the whole thing would make sense to him. I tried to explain the basic concept to him, highlighting the fact that you just can’t play with another person’s things and then deny them yours. I kept using the ‘sharing is caring’ message and eventually, after continuous failure, started questioning the meaning of the message. Sharing is caring? How is a child supposed to understand that? Why is sharing caring? Can’t you care for someone without having to give them your things? What exactly is caring anyway? So I decided to tweak the message into ‘sharing is fun’. Yeah, that made more sense, I thought. Sharing is fun! You get to play with new toys even if for a short while, and all you have to do is to temporarily hand over yours. How can that not be fun, right? So I hammered away using this new message, but alas, it seemed almost as unsuccessful as the first one.

However, there were times when I did see him share his things with other kids, and it surprised me every single time. At times he would just hand over his toy to someone and very happily invite them to join in the fun. Most of the time it happened with older kids, but sometimes even with kids his age. But it’s funny though, or sad maybe, that as soon as Luca refuses to share with someone and throws a tantrum about it, all the successful sharing incidents are automatically deleted from my mind, leading me to focus solely on the failures and to believe that my child is just difficult that way. I thought it was just hopeless. I was miserable about it. I was embarrassed too! The look on other parents’ faces when Luca screamed out an angry “NO” at their child was just too much for me to bear. After all, everything negative your child does reflects badly on you, right? Unfortunately, yes. Unfortunately society is not very tolerant of behavior that doesn’t comply with the norm, or with what we want to think is the norm. The understanding and acceptance of the dynamics of children and their volatile nature are still quite poor in my opinion, although children have been around for quite some time. We are so quick to judge a parent whose child is screaming and squirming on the floor of a toy store, or is covered in dirt and food, or screams out at other kids for touching his toys, myself included. You can’t help but think to yourself: “Just look at that, my child would never do that” or “I would so smack my child if he did that” when you know very well you would do no such thing. I don’t know why we do it, and although we do it less when we have kids of our own, we still do it much too often.

So in a desperate attempt to force my child into sharing his toys with everyone, I am very ashamed to say, I replaced my explanatory methods with threats. I threatened to stop buying him new toys if he refused to share his old ones, and that was that. Every single time he said no, I would just throw that in his face, and I could tell it hurt him. He really wants new toys, obviously, and it scares him when I threaten not get him anymore. And you know what? When he’s decided not to share with someone, even the fear of not receiving any new toys won’t make him budge. I should’ve seen it. I should’ve understood. But I didn’t.

And then the day came when I finally started to see it. Luca was playing outside with one of the older kids in our compound. He had lent him one of his remote control cars while he drove another. Side by side, they raced those cars. The car the other kid was playing with hit trees and rocks, it tumbled and crashed, and Luca never said a word. He was more than happy to share until a child around his age in our compound came down to play. As soon as Luca saw him come near one of his cars he started to scream, and having predicted this I started to yell out my threatening version of the ‘sharing is caring’ message. Luca’s screams got louder as the boy grabbed one of the cars, as did mine. But then the boy started to run away with the car, and I knew what would come next. My yelling was replaced by wincing as the boy got further away, and when he disappeared behind a wall, I heard the loud heartbreaking sound of the car smashing into the ground. This car had been with us for almost a year now, and it was brand new. And just like that, it was gone. Luca was upset, but I think I was even more upset because I was angry with myself. I felt like I allowed this to happen. I just had to force Luca to back off as another child turned his beautiful car into a piece of garbage in under two seconds. He was sharing just fine before this kid showed up, but for some reason I just wasn’t satisfied. I couldn’t accept the fact that Luca chose the people with whom he wanted to share. I do that too! We all do it! It’s a smart tactic we use to protect our things. If I know that my friend Bob never returns the CD’s he borrows, I stop sharing my CD’s with him. Luca had figured that out at such a young age, and instead of being proud of him, I threatened him to stop using his smarts, and because of it he lost one of his favorite toys.

After that sad incident, I opened my eyes and what I saw amazed and surprised me. Now I often see Luca happily handing over his toys to his friends in class. I watch him welcome kids into his room as they bring down all his toys onto the floor. I watch him share the treats he loves with anyone who happens to be there with him. My child not only shares, but he enjoys it. He enjoys sharing not only his things, but more importantly the joys he gets from his toys, books or food, which just amazes me! And it just makes me angry that because Luca was smart enough to be selective about whom he shared his things with, I unfairly concluded that he was a hopeless case. Bad. Very bad.

The day after we lost that car, the boy’s mother who felt very bad about what happened, brought her son over to apologize. She also had bought Luca a book with an “I’m sorry” message from the boy inscribed inside, and a new remote control car to replace the one he had broken. Luca was very happy to see this brand new car, but I felt terrible. These things happen. Kids are kids. I didn’t want the mom to go out and buy a new car; I just wanted that kid to stop deliberately breaking Luca’s things because he got a kick out of seeing him upset. Obviously I didn’t tell her that, but I didn’t accept the car either. Instead I announced that this car would belong to all the kids in our compound, to be shared by everyone. And Luca was just fine with that, and that just says a lot about him.

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