Who knew playground etiquette would be so complex. Do you let your kid climb the slide? Are adults allowed on the swings? Will the other mothers ever forgive me for letting my son jump in a puddle (in bare feet on top of it)? I have probably committed every playground faux pax in the book but my chief sin must be that I never ask my son to share.
Let me explain.
I was lucky enough to get pregnant after all of my close friends, which gave me plenty of time to watch them and their toddlers in action. We’d often meet for joint adult/toddler playdates and it would usually go like this: parents and kids arrive; parents reach for coffee/wine, kids rush to the toys; host kid gets upset and attempts to gather ALL toys up before the guests can touch them; parents pour more coffee/wine and the battle ensues: “Let’s all SHARE.” “Why don’t we try and SHARE this toy” “Let’s all play TOGETHER”. It was a pretty one-sided battle as the toddlers expertly tuned out their parents cries and continued to wage war over who got to hold the pink piggy. But the parents afternoon was ruined because instead of enjoying adult conversation they were firing off the word “SHARE” at 1-minute intervals and looking apologetic when their angel steadily refused to comply.
I commend my friends for their efforts. I was exhausted from just watching. I don’t know how they kept up the constant vigilance. You could see their eyes darting around the room, anxiously looking for the next sharing infraction. And worst of all, it didn’t seem to work. Never once have I seen a toddler turn around ago “Ah yes mummy, you are so right, I will share this Polly Pocket with my friend and in return she will let me ride her bicycle”. I pretty much decided then and there that I would not ask my future children to share. At the very least, by NOT asking my kids to share, I would get to enjoy my coffee/wine in peace.
The next step was finding something to back up this loopy idea and ensure I wouldn’t be raising the next sociopath. Turns out there’s a whole parenting school called the educaring approach (and yes, that word makes me feel woozy too). The basic tenet is that you need to give kids freedom to work out their own social interactions. You can observe and comment on what your kid is doing “You just grabbed Mr. Monkey out of Billy’s hand and he looks very upset” but you don’t interfere unless actual physical harm is about to ensue. Kids learn about sharing and taking turns not by you telling them, but via feedback from their peers: the kid who lashes out and grabs all his own toys may learn pretty quickly that no one wants to play with him.
So far so good, in theory. And then I suddenly have a toddler on my hands! He is fun-loving, boisterous and kind but also rather large and quite stubborn. His signature move is tugging on toys so hard his playmates topple over. By the time I’ve commented that “Andrea looks sad” he’s already off on his next adventure. Despite my best intentions I find myself whispering “Share!” under my breath only to let off some steam. But I think we’re doing okay. He and his friends seem to be working out their little battles on their own. Quite often I’ve seen the other kid stomp off after he’s grabbed their toy off him – I believe in time he will realise that he might want to try a more subtle approach if he wants to keep his playmate.
To be honest, the biggest problem are the other parents at the playground. I can feel their steely eyes boring into the back of my head. “Why isn’t she telling her kid to share!” “He just grabbed a toy off my little princess and she didn’t say anything!” “And now he’s climbing UP the slide to boot!” To make it worse, Portuguese parents as a whole seem to be pretty intense on the sharing front: I have frequently seen an older kid being told to give a toy to my baby, just because he is smaller. It all makes me wonder how often parents succumb to the “SHARE” bug simply out of peer pressure: my child might not be sharing but at least I’m doing something about it! It’s quite hard to sit on your hands and shut your mouth when you’re precious cherub whips a toy out of a tearful toddler’s hand.
I end up feeling like I should apologise all the time, which is ridiculous (but also very British – thanks mum). As long as there is no physical harm or bullying going on, I’m allowed to parent my child as I see fit. If the hands off approach doesn’t appear to be working in the future, I can always change my tactics. At the moment it doesn’t seem necessary: although I have never seen baby boy share a toy he will willingly dole out the rest of his cookie to any takers. We seem to be on the right track. My main goal is to stop feeling apologetic. Because I’d hate for my son to learn that he needs to apologise for his choices – the way I see it that would be worse than never learning to share.
How do you feel about sharing? Do you actively encourage it? Do you find yourself apologising profusely for your rambunctious toddler? I’d love to hear from you!
This time last year: Diaper-free doesn’t really mean diaper-free