High Variance

Conflict and Sharing

I’ve been thinking a lot about conflict and sharing lately. First because we watch this Sesame Street video almost every night with the girls:

In case you’re video-averse and don’t want to watch the whole hilarious two minutes and seven seconds, Robin Williams and the two-headed monster “introduce” children to the word conflict. I put “introduce” in quotes because this is a concept with which every child older than 6 months is already intimately familiar. Some kids might use different terms–“fighting!” is quite popular in our house–but the concept is clear. The video also shows the two-headed monster doing something that’s a little less natural for kids: sharing.

Second, my blog-friend1 Chris Blattman wrote recently about how they handle sharing at his daughter’s daycare. In a nutshell, they don’t push it and instead focus on developing a child’s sense of ownership. The idea is that when kids realize that their stuff won’t be rudely ripped away when friends express interest, they will start sharing voluntarily.

but mostly interact with through their blog. It makes for awkward conversations as you always feel closer to them than they feel to you.

Of course, the biggest reason I’ve been thinking about this subject is the conflict and relatively smaller amount of sharing that happens at home with the girls (4 yrs and ~18 months). We have developed our own fairly complex tri-partite system of communal rights, partial rights, and exclusive rights. Most of the toys are communal property–there is no “mine” for these. When one kid is playing with a toy in this category and the other kid wants in, we try to get them to say “Can I have a turn?” and then enforce a reasonably short time limit.

A smaller group of toys have owners (e.g., birthday presents) but still must be shared. These often come in groups (like fairies or ponies) where it’s fun to play with the whole group, but neither kid owns the whole group. Dividing ownership in this way provides incentives to play together–if you share your own stuff, you get access to your sibling’s stuff too. This arrangement is also designed to break down R’s hoarding tendencies.

The last category is the smallest: pure property rights. R has a plush pony and a groovy girl in this group and her sister has a set of 6 small plush monsters. The girls are certainly allowed to share these (R rarely does) but sharing is never required. Occasionally one girl will pick up the other’s toy, but when owner notices and demands it back, it’s always given up immediately.

Our system isn’t perfect and may in fact be more complicated than the girls’ little brains can handle. My bet is that if we reduced the number of categories, we would also reduce the amount of conflict. But I’m not sure what category(ies) would go. I don’t want to assign an owner to every toy–that would be miserable to keep track of and wouldn’t promote a cooperative spirit. I like that they maintain some ownership of presents that they’ve received individually. And the most extreme group is where we see the least amount of conflict–the last thing I want is more fighting! So we’re going to keep the system we’ve got and hope that the kids are learning about both property rights and cooperation. Check back in twenty years to see if it worked.

  1. A blog-friend is someone you know in real life