Not critical of my kids, though – critical of other parenting styles! A couple incidents a few days ago stood out to me particularly.
Limerick and I were playing at a children’s museum by our home and a little girl about his age was there with her parents. She seemed like a sweet little girl but I never really got to see her personality or how she would interact with Limerick because every time they got within two feet of each other her parents would both say, “Share! Share!” in tones reminiscent of the seagulls in Finding Nemo. So she would extend one of her toys to Limerick, and he would typically look at it, take it and set it down next to her, or walk away. She was holding blocks identical to many others on the floor surrounding them, so he wasn’t approaching her out of interest in the toys per se – he was interested in her, who she was, what she was doing, and so on. But her coached response was essentially, “take this toy and leave me alone.” What can you do with that? Limerick eventually gave up and left her alone.
Not twenty minutes later I was playing with trains with Rondel at the same museum and a couple of older boys (maybe 8-10 years old) came up and started touching and trying to move the train he was playing with. When he said “No!” and moved it away from them, one of them looked up at me and commented on how selfish Rondel was. My response probably surprised him: I said, “Not really – he was playing with that toy and you tried to take it from him. You wouldn’t have liked it either if someone did that to you.” The boys then proceeded to play with a different train in a loud, attention-getting way, trying to get Rondel to notice and think the other one was better, and he did start to notice, but since he doesn’t just walk over and take toys from other kids they weren’t achieving their goal of drawing him away from the first train. Finally I stepped in and told Rondel, “Those boys are wondering if you want to play with the steam train so they can play with the electric train – do you want to switch trains?” And as soon as I asked him in a reasonable and respectful way he agreed to switch and the boys were quite happy.
Neither of these scenarios would have bothered me at all a few years ago; I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. But now they both really bother me. In the first, I just wish those parents would shut up and let their daughter make friends with my son without their constant interference! In both, I felt like I really began to understand what “sharing” is for a child that young: giving up the toy you were playing with (or worse, having it taken away from you) so that someone else can play with it instead. Even at Rondel’s age sharing is a difficult concept: taking turns (he can have that when I am done with it; I can have this when he is done with it) or exchanging (he can have this toy if he gives me that toy) are much easier to understand and implement. So please, parents, don’t ask your young toddler to “share” with my sons – I don’t want them to learn that it is ok to go up to someone and take their toys because they should be sharing them! When Rondel and Limerick are the age of those other boys at the museum, I want them to be able to ask another child for a turn with respect, not expect the other child to immediately give them what they want.
Sigh. I don’t think any of the parents or kids that I encountered were bad (they all seemed pretty nice and well-intentioned, actually) – they just didn’t see my toddlers (or their own toddler) as little people capable of understanding and independence and deserving of basic social respect. I never felt so different in my life before I started trying to let my children unfold naturally instead of pushing and prodding and protecting and reminding them all the time…