A few days ago I read a blog about whether or not children should be required to share. It had some good points, but others with which I disagree. I agree that forced sharing isn't really sharing, but unlimited use of toys or items belonging to a nursery or co-op group fails to teach social manners or contribute in a positive way to helping a child understand ownership.
It reminded me of when my children were small and a couple of friends and I had a discussion on teaching our children to respect other peoples' property. There had been a rash of ugly graffiti turn up on fences and walls as well as several houses were used for parties while the owners were away. Bicycles had been stolen from their owners' yards and a teenage neighbor sneaked in our back door and helped himself to a carton of ice cream. (I returned to the kitchen in time to see him running out the back door, leaving a trail of melting chocolate revel behind him.) We didn't want our children to ever be involved in such objectionable behavior. Teaching children concepts of this nature isn't easy, but we decided to give it a try.
We concluded that in order to respect someone else's property, a child has to first experience ownership. How can anyone respect someone else's ownership if they've never experienced ownership themselves? We decided our children had to know certain things were their own. The child had to have complete control of those items that belonged to them exclusively such as toys, a favorite cup, or clothing. That meant it was up to the child, the owner, whether or not to share.
From there we moved on to group ownership. Some things belong to the family and anyone in the family has a say in who can use those items, when they can use it, and for how long. Any member of the family can make the rules. Next came toys at the church they all played with in the nursery. I knew my son had caught on to the concept when the nursery leader told me he'd informed another child the toys belonged to Jesus and He was the boss of them and Jesus said everyone could have a turn. I soon learned he wasn't the only one of our children who drew a strong distinction between sharing and taking turns. Taking turns is what we do with items owned jointly. Sharing means giving or allowing the use of something that is exclusively yours.
This led to all kinds of rules around our house. If a friend came to play, I didn't require my kids to share, but I did have a place where they could put toys they didn't want someone else to play with. It was their decision whether or not to risk having a beloved toy broken by a careless playmate. They learned to take responsibility for toys left out where children who didn't respect property rights might help themselves to them. We didn't replace broken or stolen items since we thought their painful loss might reinforce our children's understanding of their rights as owners so they wouldn't do the same to someone else. We noticed that when they replaced an item themselves with their own small allowances they took very good care of it. We had discussions on good manners and being kind to guests, but it was up to my child to decide which toys he would share and which went onto the high off-limits shelf. Taking turns with the trucks and dishes my kids decided to share or the group items like the swings was seldom a problem, though my oldest daughter sometimes set the stove timer to help everyone remember when a turn ended.
I don't know if our efforts produced the results we wanted, but none of our children ever seemed to have any problems with taking liberty with other people's property. They all know what is theirs and what belongs to someone else. They're also extremely generous, never hesitating to share with others. Perhaps that group of young mothers I was once a part of stumbled onto a great truth when we decided even small children need to discover ownership and that sharing isn't really sharing unless the person doing the sharing is contributing something he/she truly owns.