“I had it first!” “I was going to play with that!” “Why do I only have two pieces when he has four?” “I want a piece of that apple, but she doesn’t want to give it to me!” These outbursts are usually initiated with “Mom” and exclaimed in a volume high enough to initiate permanent damage to the cells of the inner ear.
Yes, I have a 5 and a 2-year-old. A girl and a boy. And they love each other very much. In fact, they love each other so much that they constantly fight over toys, the amount of fiber gummies or whatever might be the “hot” topic of the hour. I am usually needed as the referee to make the decision about what is fair, who needs to share and who needs to wait until it is his or her turn. To be honest, it is exhausting! And lately I even find it hard to remember the rules and thereby announce what should be a just and unbiased call.
Think about it: As a parent, every day I am put on the spot as a judge who is not only supposed to be fair but also able to explain my rulings to a toddler and a pre-schooler who each have of their own sense of logic and knowledge. Like many parents, I also know that whatever I teach them now will lay the foundation for how they perceive the world and its social rules in the years to come. Yaa, talk about pressure.
If it is his toy, shouldn’t she ask first, even if he wasn’t playing with it? If she did indeed intend to use that train but just hadn’t finished the full track yet, should he give it back? And truly, do kids need to share everything? If they worked and earned the toy by doing chores, is it not their “property”? Do they not get to decide who can play with it? Am I wrong to sense a gray area layered in between the golden rules of sharing? Maybe teaching my children about fairness and justice is actually doing them an injustice.
We teach our kids about sharing in the hope that it will encourage compassion and kindness. The sense of right and wrong gives comfort. Rules make us feel safe. But often these rules do not reflect the society our children will encounter when they grow up. Instead they are based on an image of a perfect world. An utopia which has never been real, except in a book by Thomas More back in 1516.
In school they will encounter other children who will not play by the rules. The bully on the playground will just take what he wants. Some children will not share, even when asked nicely and with a “please”. And when my children grow up, they will continuously encounter other individuals who will challenge their sense of right and wrong, of fairness and justice. They will inevitably be disappointed and hurt by somebody else who does not follow the rules which I worked so hard to establish in their childhood. And to be honest, I am not quite sure how to teach them the tools necessary to handle these situations. Should they walk away? Tell somebody? Yell? Perhaps I should step down from my role as referee, allowing my children to find their own solution. If they are forced to figure it out now, will that not give them the confidence to find the solutions independently later in life?
These are questions that I find myself frequently wondering about and no, unfortunately I still don’t have the answers. I guess there are still a few golden rules I can stand by: Don’t grab something out of your sibling’s hands just because you want to play with it. If your food falls to the ground, it is fair game for the dogs, so you better hurry to pick it up. If Dad is present, ask him. And if nothing else works, both go to your rooms until you figure it out.