- At Home
"There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life -- happiness, freedom, and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else." - Peyton Conway March
I am trying to teach my son to share. I use big words like generosity, but he can’t say that yet. He shouts “Mine!” instead.
It’s about a shark-head bike helmet (ridged with pointy white teeth and a blue fin on top). He doesn’t want his little sister to even touch it. The merest tickle of her tiny finger along the helmet sends him into spasms of “Mine, mine, mine!”
Startled, my six-month old Sienna turns her attention from the helmet to her brother, who is gathering up toys in both arms, hoarding and trying to sneak away to his bedroom with the goods. He didn’t used to be this way. I wonder if it’s human nature, or learned behavior (he recently started pre-school), or maybe it's just plain old sibling rivalry.
Even before the shark helmet, I called Alessio “my little tiburon," which means shark in Spanish. The nickname was thanks to his early, full set of sharp little teeth. Now the nickname has a whole new meaning. He is the big fish, taking whatever is in his path.
Clearly, my son defies the findings from Harvard Business School’s recent study on generosity in 136 countries and all levels of income. (The consistent, measurable effect was that being generous is linked with greater happiness.)
No, my son ignores the good feelings he could be enjoying and instead is brooding in the corner, wearing his Jaws helmet and hugging his blue bear, so aptly named "Mine."
And yet, while I am trying to teach Alessio about generosity and sharing, I also need to teach him about healthy boundaries. In this world, some things are “mine” and other things are “yours.” But how do we cultivate both healthy self-interest and generosity in our children?
Children have natural empathy - toddlers will often try to comfort another child in distress and babies willingly share their food with others. But sharing requires a complex understanding of social interactions beyond the abilities of a 2-year old, at least according to recent studies.
Children aren’t ready to understand sharing until about 4 years old, sometimes not until 6 - when they actually have the skill set for impulse control. In terms of parenting, teaching generosity is a process, linked closely to kindness, empathy, compassion and cooperation. These qualities are difficult even for adults.
I try to lead by example. “Would you like a piece of my apple, Alessio?” I cut a slice and hand it to him. “I am sharing and it feels so good! It makes me happy,” I say in my best I-am-delighted Mommy voice. “Oh, there's Sienna! Let’s give her a toy. Which one would you like to share?” (Giving toddlers choices helps them feel more in control and open to changing behavior.) Alessio runs to get Sienna’s pink puppy rattle (his gift to her the day she was born).
Okay, it’s a start - still not his toy, but I praise him for his cooperation.
In this time of giving thanks, I like to remember all the wonderful people in my life. My grandmother, Mama Lane is 89-years old, a Betty White kind of grandmother who has her own strange homemade wisdom, along with homemade quilts and the best Southern pecan pie you’ve ever tasted.
I want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your own stories and thoughts with me. You all have become a part of my life, and for that I am grateful.
Mama Lane’s Scrumptious Southern Pecan Pie
You know if the pie is done when you tick a toothpick in the middle and it’s not too syrupy. Or if you shake the pie and it doesn’t move too much.
Serve with some vanilla ice cream and love. Happy Thanksgiving!
Illustration by Rima Hawkes Graphic Design