These questions were all asked recently in response to the previously-published article “Rights are Right.” It has also been reprinted in No Greater Joy Volume 1.

Question 1

I have a 2-year-old, and my cousin just moved into our house with his 4-year-old daughter. They came out of a very rough situation and God is working on his life in a big way! I keep his daughter while he works, so the two girls play together all day. She has very few things. Not a lot of clothes or toys in comparison to my daughter, and she is constantly tattling on my 2-year-old for taking toys out of her hand. She barely has anything (the 4-year-old). Before I read this article, I thought making my daughter share was the right thing to do. Now I am totally confused. Please help! Outside of God and my husband, my daughter is the most important thing to me and I want to train her the right way God intended. What direction should I go?

Michael answers

You are right to have compassion for the 4-year-old who has little of this world’s goods. And it is quite understandable that you would want your daughter to share. But the situation has developed so that it is mildly detrimental to both children. The deprived 4-year-old is a “have not” living in the presence of those who “have much,” which can cause envy and covetousness. But by constraining your daughter to “share,” you are creating a mini socialistic system. By satisfying the 4-year-old’s lust (I use the word in the mildest of terms), you are validating the concept of taking from the rich to give to the poor.

Furthermore, by forcing your daughter to share, she is actually deprived of the opportunity to share and is learning only that personal rights mean nothing. It is possible that the 2-year-old feels she is being treated unjustly, which will give way to resentment toward the 4-year-old cousin.

It would be a blessing to see your daughter be willing to share, but she can do so only if she can choose not to share without judgment from anyone.

Now how could we resolve this so that both children learn good life lessons and peace reigns? I would take the 4-year-old to the Goodwill store and let her pick out a whole box-load of toys, clothes, and anything she wants. Tell her that these things are hers to do with as she pleases. When you get home, help her put her things away. Then bring your 2-year-old in to celebrate the happy moment. Tell your daughter that these things belong to the cousin and she is not to touch them unless she asks permission. Then bring the cousin in where the 2-year-old keeps her stuff and tell her that she, too, must ask permission to touch what belongs to another.

Now step back and watch. If conflict arises, give them a happy lecture on rights of ownership and the joys of sharing if they want to do so. Always compliment their sharing. Set an example both of sharing your own possessions and having things that you do not share. You are creating a type of mini-world that they will face when they are grown. By balancing the possessions of the two girls, you are eliminating the overpowering temptation to envy.

Question 2

What happens when it’s time to clean up their rooms or their playroom? Or do laundry? Right now my 9-year-old does the chore of taking everyone’s laundry baskets and emptying them in the main laundry-room baskets. But he always complains about taking his siblings’ laundry to the laundry room because it’s not fair, it’s not his laundry, etc. I would like our home to be a place where we all work together to take care of things regardless of who made the mess. How can my child have ownership over his toys and clothes but not have to take care of them or clean them up? How does that work with a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old?

Michael answers

I am assuming that his complaints are not a result of laziness. If so, then the consistent enforcement of an unyielding, rigid schedule is all that is needed. However, the way you expressed your concern leads me to believe that you consider your son’s complaints to be rooted in a lack of a sense of responsibility for his younger siblings. He holds them at a distance. Possibly he is competing with them. Does he harbor resentment? He has an “every man for himself” attitude. I would want to know if this attitude is pervasive, or is it isolated only to the laundry? Either way, correction will come in the form of an attitude change. If it is only the laundry, then I would ask him why he thinks it is unfair. You need to get to his heart and understand what motivates him. Does he consider it demeaning to handle the personal dirty items of others? Is this just a quirk? Then provide gloves and steer him to accept things unpleasant for the sake of fulfilling one’s responsibility in life.

However, if in conversation you discover that he harbors resentment toward his younger siblings, I would consider what we could do that would impart a sense of responsibility instead of competition. You might agree with him that the small children need to do their part, but explain that you do not have the time to train them, so you are delegating this responsibility to him. Work with him for a few days demonstrating patient training of the young ones. Guide them in picking up their own laundry and taking it to the wash room. Brag on his little successes. “You are going to be a good father someday; you are great at training your brothers. Your brothers are going to be well trained by the time they are your age.”
Be sensitive to the way your son responds to other seemingly unrelated events concerning his brothers. Does he feel that they impose upon his favor with you or his father? Does he feel that you are too permissive with them but overly demanding of him? You must get to the root in his heart without communicating rejection or hostility. Win his heart and incorporate the little ones in the circle of fellowship. You are seeking to impart a spirit of good will all around.
But regardless, if you are firm and consistent in your delegation of responsibility, he will quit complaining when he is convinced of the futility of it.

Question 3

What you teach in this article is what I have been doing in our home with our 3-year-old and 1-year-old. My trouble is at church. Recently I have been getting the report that my 3-year-old will not share in the 2s & 3s class and starts fighting the other children over the toys. What should I say to her about the church toys? What could I do at home to teach her how to respond correctly in these situations?

Mike answers

It is understandable that if a child (your daughter) gets there first and claims a particular toy, then the toy is hers until she lays it down, and she will rightly demonstrate possessiveness if someone tries to take it away. But since the workers have complained, it is apparent that her behavior goes beyond the normal “toy for the hour” possessiveness. You will need to spend some time in the nursery with your daughter. The nursery workers should not be tasked with training your children. Make it clear to her that the toys are not hers; they belong to the church nursery and are intended for every child to use. Encourage her with the joy of ministering to younger children, guiding them in play. Help her to “mother” the 1-year-olds by your example. You are going to become a volunteer nursery worker until your daughter is as well trained there as she is at home.

Question 4

This makes a lot of sense and, to the point that I have been able to set individual property, it works well. As dad of a now-blended group of eight kids, I resolve squabbles over the shared toys. However, one kid got a set of Legos that was exclusively his, but the other Legos have always been share-and-share-alike. With more kids wanting the Legos or Lincoln Logs or whatever, there’s more squabbling. How do you handle such sets that are not really suited to exclusive use?

Michael answers

The same way a library or rental service handles individual items designed for corporate use—time-shares. Explain to the children that since they cannot resolve the sharing issue, you have a solution. Get a chart or book that records the rental times. Come up with a fair program that leases the toys for a given period of time. One child has exclusive use for one hour, and then the other child who is signed up gets exclusive use for one hour, and so on. Tell them that if they want to share during their hour, they may, but control is always theirs during that allotted time. You will no doubt see them sharing for the simple reason that it gets lonely playing alone, and it feels good to be in charge and have another indebted to you. They will begin to reciprocate the sharing with those who share and all will learn a life lesson. Remember what I have said, “organize and manage.” If you organize properly, managing is easy, for the rules are the parameters, not your constant correction, warning, threats, and rebukes. Common rules are always fair.