I had an epiphany in St. Louis about something I heard Ted Tripp say on his videos. It’s bugged me for a few years now. He says something negative about parents who solve their children’s arguments by asking “who had it first?” I believe his point was, we should instead teach our children that it is selfish to be fighting over toys, “let each esteem other better than himself” and so on. Since I regularly intervene in sharing disputes, I have been bothered by his statement, but not able to articulate why. I finally figured out why.
First, my kids haven’t yet learned what is expected, the baseline rules of ownership and sharing. Before I can teach David that it is loving to let his sister play with the toy he has picked up, and before I can teach Bethel it is selfish to play with a toy merely because she knows it irritates David, I think they have to learn some foundational truths.
For example: they need to know that if you stop playing with a toy, it is available for another child to play with. They need to know that it is not right for them to grab a toy out of another child’s hand, nor is it right for that child to grab a toy out of their hands. They need to understand how to ask someone for a toy, and how to choose to be happy if it is not given. (“May I have it when you are done?” is better than “Share with me.”) They need to know that sharing is a choice, not an obligation, that it is okay to refuse to hand over a toy they just picked up to play with. And yes, they do need to learn that our sinful hearts do not like to share, but the grace of God can change our hearts to help us love others more than ourselves.
Second, in every sharing dispute, there’s a giver and a taker. I can’t make a blanket statement about forcing one child to be the giver, because then the role of taker simply shifts to the other child. Instead, I must discern who needs what lesson at that time. I want David to learn how to choose to be happy when somebody isn’t sharing just as much as I want Bethel to learn how to love her brother by letting him play with the toy that she had first. Does this make sense? I’m not suggesting we don’t work on the heart. Sometimes though, finding out who had it first allows us to understand whose heart needs the most work.
Maybe Ted Tripp would disagree with my concerns, but maybe he has forgotten what it’s like to have toddlers.