Sharing is overrated. That statement, which began one of my columns three years ago, upset several readers who said the idea was disturbing.
A father from Atlanta wrote: “I had a hard time digesting the ‘sharing is overrated’ comment. I think it is imperative to learn at a very young age that ‘It is not always about you.’ Whether in the office or in the community, sacrifice and sharing are essential to good citizenship.”
But there’s a new book coming out this summer with a similar controversial premise: “It’s OK Not to Share … and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids” (Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin). The author is Heather Shumaker, a mother of two and journalist who draws on experts’ opinions and her own experiences.
It’s not selfish for a child to say, “I’m not done yet,” suggests Shumaker. Interrupting play to insist that one child hand over a toy to another is not beneficial to either child.
Learning to take turns and wait for a toy instead of grabbing it is part of impulse control, a skill that’s necessary for later academic success. Shumaker says that “long turn-taking,” where a child gets to say when he’s finished with a toy, helps kids:
• Play independently, without relying on an adult to intervene.
• Carry play ideas to their natural conclusions without interruptions.
• Feel good about deciding to give something to another child.
To make this idea work, a teacher may need to put names on a waiting list and have duplicates of popular toys. For play dates, parents may need to tuck away special toys so the little owners don’t get defensive about them.
Out and about at busy parks and museums, a “long turn” is often impractical. Here, the rules need to be fast turns and getting back in line.
A few of the other ideas in “It’s OK Not to Share,” some of which are typically part of play-based preschools, include:
• “All feelings are OK. All behavior isn’t.” An adult’s job is to help a child express feelings appropriately. Hitting is a common reaction if a child feels anxious, but he needs to resolve those feelings in other ways.
• “We’re not all friends here.” There’s a lot for little ones to learn and for grown-ups to accept. You can still be friends even if you don’t always want to play together or if you want to play alone, and friends don’t always agree with each other. Also, you can’t make someone play with you.
• “ ‘I hate you!’ is nothing personal.” Focus on your child’s feelings, not his temporary harsh words.
• “Don’t steal play.” In the early years, from ages 2 to 6, children need plenty of child-directed, unstructured playtime during large blocks of time in big spaces indoors and out.
• “Kids need conflict.” Involve children in solving their own conflicts. Otherwise, kids expect adults to solve all their problems with friends and classmates.
• “You can’t play A-OK.” Let your child choose her own playmates. Forcing children to play together often backfires. Cooperative play takes time to develop. Guide children into how to say “no” to others without hurting feelings.
• “Ban chairs, not tag.” Children need plenty of room to move, run, jump and climb. Boisterous play is an essential part of childhood.
• “Boys can wear tutus.” Play that crosses gender roles is harmless.
• “Be buddies with dead birds.” Starting to grasp the concept of death is a major task of preschoolers. Kids often talk about death in their imaginary play and learn by asking about plants and animals.
• “Goof up.” There’s no one right way to raise a child.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email p2ptips att.net or call 704-236-9510.