Tuesday, March 24, 2009


At some point in every child's life, the parents probably start to wonder about sharing, how to teach it, its age-appropriateness, and the frustrations that arise when the child doesn't seem to want to share.

During random reading about children and parenting, I have frequently come across the statement that children have a "natural, inbuilt sense of generosity." So why does that sense go into hiding when it comes to sharing?

Long before Puttachi was born, S~'s cousin came home with her daughter Y. When we gave Y a bar of chocolate, her mom asked her to break it into pieces and give one to everybody before she ate one herself. When she gave me a piece, I told her, "Its okay, baby, you can have this one too." Her mom immediately said, "No, no, please take it. I want her to learn to share." I remember being pretty impressed, especially because the child, barely two years old, smilingly and willingly gave everybody a piece of chocolate before settling down to eat her share.

After Puttachi was old enough to understand, it has been S~ who has taken it upon himself to teach her to share. Whenever she is given a treat to eat (raisins, nuts, puffed rice), he asks her to give one to everybody and then eat. If she protests if I am sitting on "her" chair, he tells her gently, "Amma wants to sit too. Let us allow her to sit for a while, and then you can sit on it." And then when I get up, he says, "Ahh, see, now it is your turn, you can sit on the chair."

There have been a spate of weddings in the family. I take dry fruits along with me to such events to engage Puttachi if she gets too edgy. In these weddings, when she was eating the nuts, she would herself, voluntarily, offer it to the nearest person, even if it happened to be a stranger, and then continue eating. But yes, I am aware that this is a situation where she had enough raisins for herself, enough to feel sufficiently magnanimous.

But then, about a month ago, Sanjay and his wife had come home with their son Jaanamari. Puttachi was delighted to see this fellow, just her age, and she took him gleefully to see her toys, and plied him with her toys and books. "Maybe she doesn't like that book", Sanjay ventured to say, when Puttachi was forcing one particular book on Jaanamari. "On the contrary", I said, "that's one of her favourites." Both Sanjay and his wife concurred that (I am paraphrasing) "Puttachi is the most generous child we have ever encountered." S~ and I were very pleased, of course, and later that night, we discussed why it could be. Is it because we continuously encourage her to share, or is it that by nature she is a generous child? We concluded that it was probably a combination of both, and left it at that.

Then there came another sharing situation. Actively sharing toys everyday. Puttachi plays in the sand everyday in the park, with her new friend, little Sk, just about three months younger to her. (Sk's mom M and I met at the park and became friends, and then later got to know that we go back a long way. One of those unexpected encounters that one is thankful for - knowing them has been enriching.)

When Sk and Puttachi play with the garden set in the sand, naturally, they have to share. Inevitably, each wants the toy the other is playing with. It leads to a bit of grabbing and snatching and screaming, before we, as moms intervene and tell them, "Hey listen, she was playing with it, don't take it from her hand, pick the one that is not being used." To give both the kids due credit, they listen, and don't make too much of a fuss. Even if they do, a small distraction serves to make them forget. Lately they have even taken to "gifting" each other sticks, stones, seeds and seashells.

Last week, M sent me a very thought-provoking link about sharing, asking me what I felt about it. Do read the whole thing, but what it says is that sharing is not a natural thing, and it is probably wrong to force kids to do it at such a young age. After all, don't we also have our favourite things that we don't want to share with anybody else? Sometimes not even with our loved ones, leave alone strangers. Then why should we force our children to do it? Especially because at that age, sharing means "giving". There is one more thing I realized. When our children grab a toy from another child's hands, what do we do? Grab it back from her, saying, "You should not grab!" I mean, what on earth are we teaching them if we don't practice what we preach?

I saw sharing in a new light. The article does have an element of truth. I almost felt sorry for making Puttachi share her things with absolute strangers. But I still believe that if the concept is inculcated really early, it will become a habit.

As if to validate my feeling, M sent me another link. That's almost the kind of approach S~ has been following with Puttachi. So far, more or less it has worked with Puttachi. Or is it because she is still too young? Or haven't we encountered situations that really test her? Or is the "possessiveness" feeling more acute in older children? I would love to hear from you all - what you think is right, your experiences, and how you have handled it all.


Anonymous said...

I can relate to your sharing experience with that of mine with my toddler son. My son S is very generous when it comes to sharing his toys with his friends and loves watching his friends play with his toys when they come over for a play date or some such thing. We never thought him to be that way so I believe, like you say, it is just natural for every child to be generous at heart.

We have also noticed that S is very possessive when it comes to sharing his favorite toy or sticker. He will never part with something he likes very dearly. We concluded that it would be very cruel on our part to pursuade S to share something he loves so much.

I think it is fair if a child is sharing most of what he or she has and is very possessive about few things that they would not like to share. Being possessive about everything is too bad. Being possessive and at the same time sharing is a healthy balance because that is what we all are eventually expected to do in our lives.


Mangala said...

Good one! It's weird to read about oneself (though you've painted us in a very complimentary light!) - like one has suddenly tumbled into a story one is reading, like Alice :D

Also, to be fair, sk does most of the grabbing/snatching/screaming - and sometimes when he's screaming I've seen Puttachi quickly offer him some buds/seeds as if to shut him up, and to her credit, it works ;) Remember the day S asked if she would give him her sandals and she actually started taking them off? The little sweetheart is truly generous!

Another thing that struck me was that both those articles referenced are from Western writers, and there's definitely a huge cultural shift in the way things are viewed in the West and the East. The culture of individualism is really strong there, and that first article especially seems to reflect that to a degree. Here in the East it's all about we and us and community and sharing, and putting others before self is strongly encouraged. Naturally our parenting is bound to be different because we have different perspectives of what is desirable.

Personally, I'm inclined to agree with your approach - to live an everyday life of sharing even the little things so that it naturally becomes part of the child's worldview, rather than something which is separately "taught" to the child.

~nm said...

Lovely post.

I don't know what category shall I put my son into - Generous or otherwise.

There are times when he is so loving and sharing and then there are days when he won't let anyone put a finger on his stuff *rolling my eyes*

Swati said...

Wonderful post , I am also not too sure , I know we should teach our kids to share but at the same time they should learn to keep something for themselves too , it should not be that they share all their food and some back hungry. So I am never too sure how to approach this. Aryan reacts when some one takes or touches his favourite things but he is always ready to share food.In situations like sharing favourite toys with kids though , I always have tough time and I keep telling that we should play together , share your toys etc, but it doesnot work. But since I am not too sure how to approach this one , I have not been trying very hard.

Mama - Mia said...

i think its a bit of both. Eve when Cubby is given a chocolate or biscuit, we ask him to share with everyone around and which is what i remember my parents doing to.

yet he is still not ok with giving his toys or books. he is quite possesive about them at one time and another he gives it all! so i still have no clue what the trigger is really!

the only person he willingly asked for more stuff for is his daddu. i remember being stunned when i gave him a piace of candy and he asked for another saying "daadu ke liye!" :)



Anonymous said...

truly wonderful post Shruthi. I want to read it again later but since I have to go out, replying in a bit of haste for the moment. I had so many ideas on this topic I'd almost forgotten glad you reminded me - and I dont want to forget them again whatever little they are worth ;)

I remember Jaanamari heh heh my almost-2 year old Abhinav's first friend - a German baby Adrian. The evening had started pleasantly, but it took a somewhat disastrous turn once Adrian took a liking to Abhinav's 'magic slate'. Later on after considerable negotiation and pacification and what not, they become friends again and Abhinav even fed some food to Adrian! :)

To cut a long story short - lesson learnt was not to introduce something that the kid is posessive about, right in the beginning. Let the kids become friendly and familiar with each other and learn to trust each other. This takes time and patience. Then introduce only opportunities to share, but not bother too much if they don't seem too inclined to, this is my somewhat current opinion subject to change maybe with some more thought...

While on the one hand it may sound very goody goody to share, on the other hand I think the non-sharing due to posessiveness kind of prevents them from becoming too naive and vulnerable, and may be helpful in a way to a certain extent.

Shruthi, as you have highlighted very importantly in an example - "she had enough raisins for herself, enough to feel sufficiently magnanimous", I think its important for parents to inculcate the feeling of abundance right from the beginning (concept of abundance is explained quite well in Deepak Chopra's book Seven Laws of Spiritual Success). The feeling that life is not a rat race, and that there is enough for everybody - more of an attitude that goes beyond specific situations.

Btw this sharing/non-sharing may also depend on specific people. Abhinav generally can be a bit rough on kids he wants to do 'chubby cheeks' grab any unsuspecting kid's cheek and pinch it red whenever he gets a chance! But he dosen't do (ok do = try to do - because we're usually on to him and stop him before he actually does!) this with some kids who are very cool and relaxed as you witnessed. So I feel that apart from what we have discussed in this page, there must be other factors we don't really know about.

Btw even I was wondering whether its natural to share or not. Sometimes I wonder why people do phd in some rocket science when there are so many fascinating aspects of human nature we are still yet to discover :))

Anonymous said...

not to introduce something that the kid is posessive about, right in the beginning

-- of course this seems to be different in Puttachi's case where she herself shared her favorite book!

Anonymous said...

Btw its a real priviledge to be mentioned on your site, its even better than being published in a newspaper, considering your special set of readers whose comments are as lovely to read as your posts, one feel as if they're all someone known and not strangers :)

Anonymous said...

Good observation....we always make our children share everything and we make sure that whatever we buy or do to our son, we also buy or do it for our daughter.
By the way, when it comes to sharing, my son is more sharing than my daughter. If there is something that she likes, she won't share it with others including her brother....
BTW, 'gender' plays an important role in sharing....girls tend to share their toys or other articles that they play with, with other girls of their own age group. But, boys don't. With boys, there is always hierarchy....either you are in the front or I am...not both at the same time. Girls need socializing environment. They feel miserable if they are left alone. They need to talk (girls start talking earlier than boys)
If you ever want to 'punish' a girl, all you have to do is, not let her talk to her friends for few minutes...that's all. But, with boys, it doesn't work. Girls, when they grow up, need a group of close friends to talk...and just talk... without discussing anything in particular. But, men, on the other hand, talk less except in some public domains such as politics, sports etc. There is a whole lot of literature on 'language and gender' which explains why, speaking the same language, men and women have miscommunication. It all starts at the young age...language behavior is a clue for communication pattern...

praneshachar said...

SHARING is a great thing and hats off to you people who are nurturing it in the very tender age to your wards. yes I agree with you it is combination of both even though one may have natural instinct unless it is nurtured it will not blossom. As parents you are ensuring that this is happening so your efforts are laudable and more and more parents should take a clue from this.

Third para of your post is very impressive so it is very important you make your child a genius but you must teach them the art of sharing, art of appreciating. so many things in life, it is nice way of bringing up

wonderful experiences of your park visits are coming out and I am sure u hv got enough material for your creativity and yes u can make it to blossom

have a great sunday

Anonymous said...

Here are my 2 cents. Sharing should come naturally from inside. Forcing sharing might not be so good. Before any one can give something they should have that thing first fully to their satisfaction.
As parents we must teach by example ... Like not try to make our kids better than what we have been. Young children are still discovering the world, they don't have a strong sense of me & you. Keeping things to onself will strengthen a strong me. This is required for this stage where they have to do things for themselves before they can give. But if your child has discovered the joy of sharing & does it without any motivation let her do what she does. You are lucky parents :)

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