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Debate Club: Should You Teach Your Kids to Share?


Teaching kids to share is good for them and good for society

by Kelly Meldrum

On a gorgeous fall day, I drove down the streets of our upper middle class, suburban neighborhood, waving at strangers raking leaves and kids playing in the unseasonably warm weather. As I passed garage after garage, open and neatly organized, I noticed something that disgusted me about the culture in which we live.

I saw the exact same items in nearly every garage: expensive lawn mowers, high-end snow blowers, ladders of every size, hardware of all kinds, and every lawn gadget thing-a-ma-bob imaginable. The two to three vehicles parked in every driveway didn’t escape my attention either.

The homes in our neighborhood are around 50 feet from one another. In this moment of clarity, it seemed like such a waste that every garage contained multiple, seldom used items hanging literally feet away from the neighbor’s identical items.

I thought about why we live this way. I believe that our need for autonomy, financial or otherwise, is rooted in the fact that, as a society, we’ve lost our sense of community and connection to one another. We don’t have relationships with our neighbors. We don’t share because we’re looking out for ourselves.

My experience cemented my conviction and commitment to sharing the things we own and teaching my children to do the same.

Spend less, give more

My desire for community and connection with others is deeply rooted in my faith as a Christ-follower, but it doesn’t require religious tradition to see the benefits of sharing. My cousin, an atheist, is kind and deeply empathetic to those in need. She sees the value of connection and community through sharing as much as I do. She loves others through her actions more often than many “Christians” I know.

The more we share what we have, the less we spend on ourselves, which allows us to give more to others, including family, friends, charities, and causes that are important to us. We remind our kids of this often, especially, when they both want the exact same thing. We ask them if they can share it, or if they really think they each need one.

We don’t demand sharing of every single thing we own (for instance, each child has their own iPad), but we do highly encourage it and talk through the possible outcomes of sharing or not.

Connection

When we share, we connect with others on a deeper level. There is no way to share without communicating and cooperating with someone else. The act alone is good for children’s social and emotional development. We can cultivate empathy as we talk through how it feels to be without something that we need or want. Likewise, children practice patience as they learn to wait for something that they want, including time or attention.

My children are not saints, and I am an average parent who “loses it” daily, but I believe our focus on sharing from infancy has positively affected our children and resulted in less fighting and sibling rivalry. Our two youngest share as if they are twins (they’re not).

Speaking of twins, they’re an excellent example of children who’ve learned to share from a young age. Twins typically share everything from toys to time to parents and rooms, yet they often have an unbreakable bond, likely hardened by years of taking turns and cooperation.

Community

One only need turn on the news to see the obvious break down of community in our society. In poorer nations all over the world today, life is all about community. People have to share to survive.

It used to be that way in First World nations as well, but time, money, stress, and, distance have separated us from one another literally and figuratively. Our elders cry, “I remember when neighbors really cared about each other,” and we all nod our heads in agreement.

Most of us concur that something is broken in our communities, but no one knows how to fix it. I believe that sharing can bring back some of that unity we’re lacking. We’ve started by letting our family, friends, neighbors, and church know that we have things they can borrow. Not surprisingly, most are taken aback that we would trust them with our possessions.

Regardless of how they feel, those who need something will take us up on the offer. In turn, they offer time to help with a chore or lend out something of theirs that we might need. It’s not tit-for-tat; it’s the beginning of community and real connection between acquaintances.

The Earth

It’s a no-brainer that the less we buy and use, the better it is for the environment. What if only every other house, or every third house on our block had a heavy-duty snow-blower? What if more people car-pooled to work or part-time workers shared a vehicle?

Even smaller gestures could have an impact. We could tell our neighbors that we have a 24-foot ladder they can borrow anytime so they don’t feel the need to buy one when they need to put up and take down Christmas lights once a year.

Boundaries and pitfalls

It probably seems easy for me to say “everybody share” when it’s clear that I am well-off. I wasn’t always. I grew up in a working poor family. We had everything we needed, but debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck was the norm. My parents worked hard, but still had to borrow money for Christmas, medical care, and unforeseen circumstances. I know the other side, and I can’t help but think of how we would have benefited if someone in our lives had said, “Hey, I have a few things you can borrow so you don’t have to buy them.”

My parents were protective of all of their things because they worked so hard for them. But even my parents, who didn’t have a lot, had items they could have shared with the neighbors. My dad worked in construction, so he had dozens of tools not in use. My mom made gorgeous handmade Halloween costumes every year for us (which she did lend out when we were older).

I understand the inherent desire to protect things that are special, so we do allow our kids a few special items that they don’t have to share. When sharing anything, it’s important to talk about what will happen or who is responsible for the item if does break. Will the owner pay for it if the borrower didn’t use it out of turn? Will they split the expense? It’s a good conversation to have upfront, and it fosters that connection we all need.

Modeling behavior

In our home, we model the behavior we want to see in our children. We give out our garage code to friends and family if they want to stop by to use the bathroom or get something to eat when we aren’t home.

When guests come over, we make it clear they’re welcome to anything in the common areas, from food and drinks to toys, movies, books, and magazines. We lend out our folding tables, hardware, carpet cleaner, leaf blower, ladders, chairs, lawn games, and virtually anything that we don’t often use that can be easily transported.

Our kids get one day with their new toys. Yep, just one day that they don’t have to share, and then it becomes family property and anyone can play with it.

I know that it’s not for everyone, but sharing is a way of life for us. Surprisingly, it works. And it’s made us a more joyful, more giving, and more loving family.

I didn’t make my kids share and they became generous people

by Kimberly Yavorski

Parents have become too involved in their kids’ decisions. As a society, we seem to have bought into the idea that we’re judged on the actions of our children and, as a result, impose demands of perfection on them. We try to force them to behave in ways that are unnatural and, despite claiming to hate the idea, expect them to “Do as I say, not as I do.” Sharing is just one example.

While I certainly think there’s value in sharing, I don’t believe that kids should be taught to share everything. After all, as adults, we get to choose which things we share and which we keep to ourselves. It seems hypocritical to me to insist that a child share everything, then have a “look but not touch” attitude about certain items (i.e. keep all the salted caramel ice cream to myself).  Instead, I think we should start teaching them to decide if and when to share their things from a young age.

I believe in natural consequences. There should be a logical cause and effect. I think this is how people learn best. (I have to confess that I may have, on occasion, manipulated circumstances to make a point.) There’s inherent value in sharing; being selfish and greedy is unlikely to improve relationships with others and can be very isolating.

But I think this is a lesson best learned by experience, not by being forced. I gave my children the option to share, or not. If that resulted in siblings or friends choosing to reflect their selfish ways, I then pointed out that everyone can choose whether to share or not, and that maybe sharing with others would make them more likely to share with you.

When my daughter was small, like many others, she had a special stuffed toy that was extremely important to her and went everywhere with us. On one occasion, when we had another child visiting, he wanted to play with this toy. My daughter refused, and as the situation escalated, his mother admonished my daughter, telling her to share.

I quickly stepped in, saying no, she didn’t have to share that toy as it was very special to her. I told my daughter that since she didn’t want to share this toy, I would put it someplace safe for her and followed through. The other mom was surprised at my reaction, but it was my house, my rules, and she accepted my solution to the issue.

I kept to this philosophy as my children grew. With four kids in the house, there were many times one child wanted a toy that another had. We discussed sharing, and I pointed out how some toys are much more fun to play with when shared. Sometimes sharing and working together on something like a jigsaw puzzle made the process go faster as well.

I insisted on manners and taught the older kids to use a “bait and switch” technique when their baby or toddler siblings had an item they didn’t want to share. I explained that it was not acceptable to grab toys away, but that they should find another toy with equal or greater appeal and trade. Anything they were unwilling to share was to be put away before friends came over to play.

I believe that not forcing my kids to share has enabled them to be more assertive. They have the confidence to say no and to stand up to being treated unfairly (and also defend others who are less able to do so than themselves). They also accept no as an answer. They understand that sometimes a “no” is “not now,” and other times it is firm and final. That being said, they’re all generous individuals who frequently do share – on their own terms.

I question what we’re teaching the child who wants an item by forcing another to share. Does this somehow enable them and teach them that they can have whatever they want simply by demanding it, that it is their right to have everything shared with them?

Allowing kids to sometimes not share teaches the one suffering the rejection that they will not always get what they want, that wanting a thing does not necessarily mean you get it. Asking to play with a toy is a request. If the other child is forced to give it up, it becomes akin to a demand. Forcing kids to share can also cause resentment. If they’re going to share, I want my children to share willingly.

Some parents enforce sharing rules by insisting that children take turns (even when it is not their child or even their child’s toy). Assuming that such sharing equates to fairness, and that for some reason we should falsely imply that life is fair, is this really the message conveyed? If you have something and are not done using (or playing with) it, and are forced to give it to someone, how is that okay?

Instead, if we ask a child to wait until the other is done with the item, we teach patience and waiting (a skill that will be used throughout life). If we choose to say no altogether, it may seem harsh, but is more a life lesson than dictated sharing.

I have another, more practical reason not to insist on sharing. Not everyone places the same value on things. There are items that are important to me that others consider insignificant. In addition, not everyone is taught to respect the property of others. While I’m careful to take great care with things that do not belong to me (and have taught my children to do the same), others have not always reciprocated. Sometimes sharing results in the item in question being damaged, lost, or even destroyed.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe many children, of varying ages and abilities, engage in play. Some of these cherish playthings and treat them lovingly. Others seem to have a crush-and-destroy attitude towards everything in their path. Sharing involves an implied trust and sometimes that trust needs to be earned. Though some people are quick to offer a replacement, others simply move on to another toy. And in some cases, the item can’t be replaced.

Many people I know share freely, without giving it a second thought. They’re quick to loan any item, without caution or condition. Some may see my perspective as selfish or consider it a character flaw, but I’m more discerning in what I share and with whom. Prized possessions deserve careful treatment and don’t have to be shared.

When my kids ask to borrow things and I hesitate, they’re quick to tell me it’s okay if I don’t want to share, that they understand. They can say no to my requests as well; they know I will offer them the same consideration.

It’s okay to have some things for yourself. As adults, we respect personal ownership. We don’t walk into someone’s house and use anything we see that we like. In fact, we usually even ask permission to use a bathroom (as if that would be denied). Why should our kids be taught that their possessions are less important than ours?

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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