I had a friend think through with me the process of teaching a young child to share, and addressing the biblical concepts of covetousness and giving. It was encouraging, because I realized that I have seen a lot of growth in this area from my children. The discussion was also challenging, because it reminded me how important it is to look at a problem from a biblical perspective.
If you look at Psalm 78, the things we’re told to teach our children are all positive. It’s not that the negative isn’t important, but we often forget how important it is to discuss the “good” side.
- First, consider how you can model a giving spirit to someone else, whether it’s a new mom, your husband, a friend, or so on. Then explain to your daughter why you’re doing what you’re doing. You can explain how God is teaching you to share, even when it’s hard. Tell her what Scriptures are a help to you.
- Praise giving and sharing in others. When a nice person at the store takes back your cart for you, talk about how wonderful it is that someone would take the time to show God’s love to us (doesn’t matter if they’re saved or not. I assume they are, at this young age!) Talk about a friend who is giving, and explain that you like being around this person because they show you how to be unselfish and giving…. and so on.
- Praise it in your children. When she is unselfish, point it out. 🙂 Point out that it is God’s grace that helped her to do right (“I am thankful for God’s grace that helped you to share just now” not necessarily “you’re such an unselfish girl. look at how good you are….” )
- Help walk her through the process of sharing, even if she’s not happy about it. Acknowledge that sometimes it’s hard to be giving when it costs us something. I often refrain from forcing giving, because then the rule of law is peace at any cost, and that’s trading one problem for another.
- Before they can learn about sharing, they have to learn the laws of possessions. Baby cannot grab something simply because she wants it. “Share” isn’t a magical word that forces everyone else to be godly and me to be selfish. I have no problem with the “who had it first” question, especially when dealing with toddlers. It’s not the only question, but it does help me to identify who is instigating the problem at the moment before I deal with the heart issues. Otherwise, I’m answering a matter before I’ve heard it.
- In little ones, sharing is hard, so I teach it in steps. I teach little ones to ask “Can I play with it when you are done?” and I never let the older ones say no. I do occasionally force the older one to give up a toy after they’ve played with it for awhile. In the adult world, it’s actually rude to demand someone hand over something immediately after they pick it up (like a magazine, or a card, or some other object). As my children get older, I’ve dealt more with the “You’re holding on to that toy simply because you want to annoy your sister” and other more sophisticated motivations.
- When it is appropriate for your children to learn to share mommy or take turns with a toy, expect that learning to deny our flesh isn’t easy. I have said many times “You must share mommy. I am David’s [etc] mommy too.” Expect tears. We adults have a hard time learning this lesson, so it shouldn’t surprise us that our children will too. As they get older, and as they have lots of practice, it will be easier for them to share mommy. Act first, explain after. (I see a lot of parents who try to convince the child that this is a good thing, deal with the heart, etc., in hopes that they can avoid the tears and do what needs to be done. Instead, I like to act first, and then teach, and don’t be afraid of tears.
- Finally, do not expect your unsaved child to act like a saved one. This is a significant difference I have with Tedd Trip and others who hold a covenant theology. They treat a covenant child (i.e., one who is reared in a Christian home) as essentially redeemed, whether or not he has made a profession of faith. I disagree with this approach, because I really don’t think it reflects Scripture. Yes, we address the heart and tell our children what is expected of God’s children. We call them to obedience and give consequences when they don’t. But we either believe in total depravity or we don’t. The depravity of our children should not surprise us, whether their actions or motivations.
- I’m not opposed to identical toys (other than the lack of room, which can limit you) with young siblings, especially ones close in age. I’m not obsessive about it, but I have found that it makes playtime more fun when the littlest ones can play side by side. I have enough things that can’t be shared, so I’m basically trying to keep manageable the times when I am teaching sharing. 🙂 As the kids have gotten older, they don’t seem to care as much (although I still like to get two or three of the same thing so they can play together)
Can I say that I’ve never seen anything like this reflected in a preschool setting? For our family, home was the best preschool! That’s all for now. Off to get my chores done before music class!
Terrific points, and thanks for expounding each one.