Why Children Don’t Like to Share

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January 2, 2013 by lucieromarin

So, we’ve just had Christmas (okay, we’ve just had Christmas Day – I know we’re still in the twelve days), which means I’ve been able to see a little boy run up to his mother after Mass and recite for her in a voice of awe the names of the lollies given to him by a friend. The wonder in his voice put me in mind of another conversation:

Child: Can I buy some chocolate?

Mother: That depends. Do you have any money?

Child: No.

Mother: I guess you can’t buy some chocolate then.

Child stands thinking for a bit, then approaches me: What does money cost?

Then I realised something. You know how it is that children cry “Mine!” and don’t want to share? And you know how we attribute this to Innate Selfishness or the wounds of original sin, to not having enough siblings, and so on? I don’t think it’s just vice at work. I think it’s this: the only way a child can own something is if someone else gives it to him, and he knows it. He also knows he doesn’t have the power to replace anything he loses; he knows he is utterly dependent on everyone else for food, clothing, and – more importantly – personal property. He can’t earn. He can’t buy. He can’t replace. Under these conditions, not wanting to share is not just regular selfishness; it’s also a kind of survival instinct. It’s the same instinct that prevents countries from sharing military secrets; not-sharing is a way of Protecting Your Stuff.

This is why adults find it (marginally) easier to be generous with Stuff, and difficult to be generous with time; this is why we make complaints along the lines of, “I want my weekend back!” or “Those are two hours of my life I’m never getting back!” We know we’re powerless to replace lost time, so it’s hard to give it away.

I’m not denying that selfishness is real, or that children should have siblings, and so on.  I’m just suggesting that there’s more to the reluctance to share than simple concupiscence of the eye. Other than that, I have no idea what to do with this insight or how to apply it to reality. I guess it means that if I ever have children, they can start earning pocket money as soon as they’re old enough to wield a tea-towel.

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