Inspired by/in response to Alanya Kolberg’s viral Facebook post, “Your child is not required to share with mine.”
I often take my daughter to the park on Sunday afternoons – I’m so busy during the week that it’s a rare and precious opportunity for us to have a picnic and hit the playground together. I suspect I’m not the only parent in this weekend park predicament, but I am unique in that I do so not only as a parent, but also as a parent coach and mindful parenting facilitator.
So, for the other weekend park parents, I can understand the pressure you might feel to have these outings be pleasant and go smoothly for everyone involved. I can also understand your challenge knowing how to manage a stressful, albeit totally normal and developmentally appropriate, situation in the sandbox.
Case in point, last week’s park adventure.
My daughter spied some tempting looking sand toys in the sand pit, and since they weren’t in use, toddled over to get in on that action. In retrospect (and what I’ll probably do in the future), it would have been good modeling to say, “Hey, I don’t know who these toys belong to. Why don’t we find out and then see if we can have a turn?”
But I didn’t do that. And shortly after my child sat down to play, we were met by a shrieking 4-year-old, accompanied by two highly anxious and embarrassed parents. This little gir was not at all okay that some kid was using her toys, and let us know that. I understood completely and let her know I got the message loud and clear.
“You didn’t want anyone to use your toys. You left them here thinking they would be safe and when you came back you didn’t expect someone to be using them. You don’t like that she’s using them and you’re not ready for her to have a turn.”
My daughter was still really interested in the sand toys, and kept trying to take them back and play with them, but wasn’t terribly miffed about the toys’ owner grabbing them back up.
The 4-year-old’s parents were mortified – I think they were afraid that I would judge their child (and them, by proxy) as selfish or greedy, so they kept telling her, “Share! Share with the baby!” But she was having none of it. She flung her little body back, mouth wide open and screaming. Mom even tried to cover her daughter’s mouth – she must have been so embarrassed.
I told them, “It’s okay. She doesn’t need to share her toys. She’s not ready to let someone else use them, and it’s all right. Seriously.”
It took a few repetitions, but they seemed so relieved when I wasn’t hostile, rude, or defensive about our children’s interaction. I did a friendly check in later, after the dust (and sand) had cleared, smiling and acknowledging how normal and developmentally appropriate their child’s behavior was, noting that I’m a child therapist and parenting coach.
So, I said it to them, and I’ll say the same to all of you out there on the interwebs, in every playground and sandbox around the world:
If your child isn’t ready to share, my child (and I) can tolerate the disappointment.
I will not think you are a bad parent if your child does not want to share with mine.
I will not think your child is a jerk if he/she does not want to share with mine.
Your kid doesn’t have to share with mine.