To Model or Direct? (Teaching Kids to Share)





My parenting journey has often resembled the constant tuning of a radio station. 

When the frequency is just right and coming in clearly, it’s a joy to sing along - out loud and free, but when the crackling static interrupts my favorite song, it can wear on my patience.

It is difficult (and unreasonable) to expect ourselves to remain authentic, calm, and creative in every moment. I enjoy discovering the easy moments - those moments which happen naturally and without my triggered anger getting in the way.

One such occasion happened on a recent playdate with my almost three-year-old daughter and her best buddy.

After a full day of fun, our friend and his Mama were preparing to leave when he decided to make a quick pit stop at my daughter's collection of balloons and grab a handful for the road.

Well, you can imagine what my two-and-three-quarters-year-old thought of *that* idea. She lurched at him, attempting to snatch the balloons from his hands.

"They're mine!"
he bellowed, pulling the balloons close to his chest. 


"They're MINE," she barked back, flashing him her most-scary-brow-frown. 

She meant business. Balloons are no joke in our house.

I jumped in to calm the fray and explain to our little friend that we'd have to leave the balloons behind. He hesitated, but eventually handed back the balloons.

Okay, he didn't hand them over willingly, but he also didn't resist as I loosened his grip on the rubbery bunch. One kid calmed, one to go. I quietly whispered to my daughter and suggested she offer a balloon to our friend for him to take on his ride home. 

Hearing my idea, he chimed in, “I want a blue one!” 

I was hopeful (for about a minute) as I watched the cogs in her brain start to whirl, contemplating what this might mean for her.

And then, just as fast as she considered it, she uttered a deep guttural, "Hrmpf!" and tucked the balloons under her arm, affirming her decision not to share with an emphatic "No!"

I could have validated her need to keep her balloons.

I could have directed her to notice the somber look on her friend’s face - hoping to make an empathic connection and convince her to share her toys

I could have given her a short lecture on the meaning of friendship, cooperation and sharing - and then MAYBE ten to fifteen minutes later (judging by her ardent stance) she would have relented and given our friend a single balloon to take home.

But I was tired, this was my third day in a row adventuring with the under-age-four crowd, and I was in no mood to negotiate or be creative. 

I decided to honor the toddler rules of "what's mine is mine" and instead, I stood up and said, "Okay, I have more balloons and I will share one from my bag with him."

Then I walked over to the closet, where I knew there was another bag of blue balloons and handed one to the little guy. Beaming from ear-to-ear, he graciously accepted my offering.

Not two minutes later, my daughter stood up, without being prompted as we had long moved on from the balloon moment to tying shoes and gathering toys, and she said, "He can have my blue balloon too and then he will have another!" 

Why thank you, sweet girl.

Modeling socially acceptable behavior is far more effective and beneficial than simply telling children what to do and how to do it.

Forcing or rationalizing with them until they accept our idea of what action is correct or true - especially if it is solely to satisfy the judgment of the world or our own control issues - doesn't increase a child's motivation to be kind and caring.

Children don't want to be directed all day long. They want to be invited to learn, experience and discover the world for themselves. 

My daughter had a lesson in sharing today. I didn't tell, force or bribe her. I just modeled how it’s done.

While every situation calls for us to be empathetic, we don't always need to insist our kids "do" the right thing.  If we want to encourage our kids to develop their emerging skills, leading by example is often more influential than demanding. 

Do you ever worry that your children won't learn to share with others? How do you manage your own reactions? Leave your thoughts in the comments and share your story!

Warmly,








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