For my children, we have three sharing rules to help teach respect:
- If you want to use something that belongs to someone else, you must ask first. When the kids go visit someone else, we are teaching them not to run and grab the toys, but to ask (unless, of course, the toy is offered). When others come over, our children can relax knowing that we will gently defend their possessions — “In our home, we ask each other before playing with others’ things.” Sometimes the kids give longstanding permission: “Sure, you can play with that whenever you want–you don’t need to ask.”
- When someone asks to use your things, you can’t simply say, “no.”Nor do you have to say yes. But if you decline to share, respect the other enough to either give a reason or suggest an alternative, such as “Let’s take turns,” “You can play with it, but only inside,” or “That’s my very favorite, but you can play with any of these.”
- Remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. This comes in handy when considering how to answer someone who wants to play with your things. It helps you decide, too, when and what to ask of someone else (I know he just got that new toy, and I like to play with my new toys). This rule is also a wonderful guide for how to handle and care for others’ things when you are using them.
Clearly, these rules are ambitious, sometimes taking a lifetime to really learn. But children are hungry to sort these issues out, and as they mature they find these rules a satisfying solution.
Ultimately, our children learn more from what we do than from what we say. They learn best when what we do and say coincide.