Rav Berg once said, “The soul’s view of the world is anchored in a Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing.” And this is true.
Unless you are a toddler.
As parents, we know toddler brains are going through tremendous neurobiological and psychological changes. This rapid change happens while they are simultaneously learning to walk and express themselves verbally. All of this results in a budding sense of self, which previously did not exist. Hence, the “terrible twos,” or perhaps, the “even-more-challenging threes.”
A toddler’s view of the world is anchored in their desire to be independent – to explore, touch, and hold. We want this for them, as well. We want our little ones to experience the world without restrictions and be delighted by it. But, of course, there are limits. Encountering these limits can become contentious in social situations when surrounded by their peers. Playgrounds and playgroups are where toddlers begin to learn what it means to desire, receive, and share.
Sharing is a hot-button topic among parents. In my experience, grown-ups fall into two different camps when it comes to their philosophy on sharing: those who believe children should be made to share, and those who do not. When I was growing up, the former group was the majority. Kids were taught early on that they should and must share. And if that meant giving up a beloved toy to any child who stumbled into the sandbox, well, so be it.
These adults meant well. They wanted us to grow up to be compassionate and generous. But being forced to share can backfire, leading children to cling more tightly to things, worrying they will be without. Kabbalists teach that one of the major goals of our spiritual work is to move from wanting to receive for our own benefit to wanting to receive so we can share with others. As Rav Berg explained, “Our purpose in this world is to transform our reactive nature of receiving selfishly for reasons that serve our own ego and self-interest into the proactive nature of receiving for the sake of sharing with others.”
So, how do we foster the ability in our children to take note of what others need, to have empathy? How do we build a deep desire within them to share with others, even if it means going without? While we can force our children to share in a kind of “fake it till you make it” approach, there are a few alternative tools we can use. When applied collectively, we can hopefully create a more genuine and long lasting consciousness of sharing that will evolve with them as they grow into adulthood.
First, try giving your child the option to share with their siblings and playmates. As with academic lessons, children are more likely to internalize experiences when they are allowed to experiment and come to their own conclusions. Psychologists believe that when given the choice of sharing kids will develop a sharing state of mind. You can start by acknowledging the act of sharing when you see it. No need for praise. A simple, “I saw you share your trucks with Rachel; that was kind,” will be enough to express to your child that you value sharing. You can also take note of when a child shares with your son or daughter. “Joel shared his doll with you. Thank you, Joel!”
We are our children’s first and most powerful teachers. They learn so much about how to interact with the world from us. Whether we know it or not, we are modeling our core values and beliefs. So, make a concerted effort to model receiving for the sake of sharing. Show them what it means to be generous without hesitation. Take note of their needs or desires, then tell them how you can share with them. That might look like, “I’ll share these markers with you and we can color this picture together,” or, “I see you reaching for my apple; I’ll cut it in half and then we can both have some.”
Also, when observing your child playing with peers, narrating what you see happening is a great way to emphasize the behavior you’d like them to repeat. General praise isn’t specific enough to spark a connection for kids. Try being more descriptive to draw attention to the action you want to underline. A response like, “Jonah smiled when you offered him your book. He really liked that,” helps encourage your child to be empathetic in his or her actions. Eventually, they will learn that sharing can bring joy for both the giver and the recipient.
Rav Berg said, “Whoever truly shares affects the entire world.” If we accept this as truth, we know we can certainly impact the world for the better by teaching our children the importance of sharing. But have patience! This kind of understanding takes time to fully realize. To be sure, many of the adults we know are still learning how to share. It is all a part of our spiritual growth. Recognize generous acts when you see them, model sharing, and know that with time our kids will begin to make positive choices built on empathy and a deep desire to share with others.