Typical childhood scenario:
Child 1 (playing with a doll)
Child 2: I wanna turn!
Child 1: I'm playing right now.
Child 2: MOOOOMMMYYYYY! She won't share with me!!!!!
Mommy: Child 1, you have 5 more minutes then you will share with Child 2.
Child 1 now has some options:
- give up the toy immediately because the "planned play" was for a much longer stretch of time
- give up the toy immediately because of not being sure how long 5 minutes is
- break the toy and give it to them
- hide the toy
- play for the allotted 5 minutes then sweetly hand over the toy
- play for the allotted 5 minutes then throw a fit to get the toy back (hey! it worked for the first kid!)
Everyone loves option 5!
The problem is, all those options destroy something within the child. Yep. Every single one.
Before I explain the "Montessori-explanation", please consider the following:
- in "real life" (as if the children's lives are not real right now), how often is it necessary for an authority to say "5 more minutes and so-and-so gets it". "Two more weeks on this job and the unemployed person on the street corner is taking over this job. You two can job-share - 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. That's fair, isn't it?" Or better yet: "Congratulations new Mom and Dad - your newborn is beautiful and perfect in every way. There is a couple here who can't have children of their own, so you're going to share your child with them."
- How can you "share" something if it's not truly yours to share?
- And if it's not yours, you know the parameters going in to utilizing whatever-it-is.
- And it is yours, why do you *have* to share?
- Don't we want our children to share because they see a need in another child/person and they seek to fill it?
- Therefore *true* sharing stems from an "ownership" and from the "heart" - not from an outside authority. Maybe a couple DOES "share" their child with a childless couple who are their neighbors and good friends, asking that couple to be godparents and calling them "Aunt and Uncle". It's the same for children - they are quite creative and strong with their empathy and compassion, when we let them.
So how do we encourage this heart-sharing? This empathy? Most of it happens AWAY from the situation of conflict:
- Let it belong to the child: When a child has something in their possession the natural instinct is "This is mine." Unless there is an extenuating circumstance (for example, they are using it without permission - which would mean the owner hasn't "shared" it with them; or it is time to leave, etc), if a child is using something, *let* it be theirs! We are not feeding that natural instinct - we are fulfilling it so that they can *move on* from it and start filling the needs of others. "Child 2, Child 1 is working with it right now; you may ask to observe, you may ask to join, or you may find something else to do while you are waiting."
- Require a complete work cycle: Whenever a child gets anything out - toys, school work, helping with chores --- emphasize that "the work is not done, until it is ready for the next person." Talk about developing a consideration for others! Polishing work must have clean cloths and cotton balls for the next person; the bottle of polish should have ample supply, the apron is hung neatly (or a clean one is hung in its place while the dirty one is put in its appropriate place); the polished item is returned to its location.
- Let them repeat: This ties in with the first suggestion about ownership. Let them work for as long as needed, within *natural time constraints* (school work cycle is over; visit to grandma's is over). Montessori describes a girl who used the knobbed cylinders something like FORTY-FIVE times - surely when she was done once, or even twice, she should have let another child have the material - that would have been "sharing" - but her needs were not yet fulfilled - they could not even get her attention! She was SO focused on the work at hand. She worked with the material until her inner need was fulfilled. I wonder if she ever went back to the material after that, in the same way; perhaps she did some extension or language work with it later, but the main thrust of the experience was fully internalized - and I would conjecture that anything in regards to those shapes and sizes, she learned very, very quickly after that. Because it was HERS. Now she can pass that on.
- Don't force sharing: This last point leads to why forced-sharing can be so harmful. A child cannot go deep with the experience if they have a time-limit; when they try to go deep despite a time limit, they receive a (sometimes physical but always emotional) painful reminder of reality. They also present what Montessori called "fugues" - inappropriate behavior we attribute to children that really shouldn't be there at all.
- Suggest sharing: Suggesting an option or two for ways to share, gives the children ideas and guides them to thinking of other people. Point out that "Child 2" would like to play dolls (or build a map) too. "I wonder if there is a way to include them." And let it be. Let the children work it out as long as they are not hurting each other, emotionally, verbally or physically - but let them work through discomfort and mild confusion. If the children are ready to think of others, and you've provided them opportunities to grow in that direction, they will do it when they are ready.
- Children who learn to share on their own, share earlier and from the heart: No explanation needed. Yes, some children might wait a bit longer to share (if their needs for developing ownership concepts are not properly met soon enough), but with all other pieces in place, they will soon share from the heart.