Everyone knows the best way to teach your child anything is to model the behavior. This is how I have accidentally taught my son to be obsessed with my smart phone and dance like a maniac to ragtime music. Luckily, modeling behavior seems to also work for habits that I actually want to teach—like sharing.
My first attempt at modeling sharing behavior did not work so well. While we were playing I’d say things like, “Look how I took a turn with the block, and then I gave Daddy a turn,” I’d say. And then my husband would say something like, “after my turn, I’ll share it with you”.
Meanwhile our two year old son was pretty much ignoring us and playing with his blocks wondering why we were pretending to care about that block so much.
Recently, though, I started to tell my son about all the real things I share, and this seems to be inspiring a budding interest and appreciation for sharing—at least when I am the one doing the sharing! And the good news is that when it comes to sharing, there are more and more opportunities for parents share.
In our home, most of our sharing has to do with transportation, which is not uncommon (A recent study showed that a new generation of millennials is not very interested in cars and are happy to share cars—great news for sharing and for the planet!)
Here are our two favorite ways to share:
Car sharing: My husband and I have been Zipcar members for years, and whenever we want a car we talk with our son about getting a shared car, and how we need to be very careful to keep the car clean because a neighbor will use it next. Now we also use Car2Go, which allows point to point trips, rather than just round trips, so I can take public transportation to a meeting, and if I have something big and heavy to carry home, I have the option of a Car2Go for the trip home. A toddler cannot sit in a Car2Go because they are tiny Smart Cars, but our son already talks about what fun he will have when he is old enough to ride in a Car2Go.
Bikeshare: I commute to work every day on a bike that is not “mine,” but belongs to Capitol Bikeshare. I use a small fob on my key chain to access the bike at the station and return the bike to another station near my office. The word “share” is even in the name, and my son loves asking about my shared red bikes.
And why stop at sharing transportation? You can start a tool list with your neighbors and even share weekly use items like vacuum cleaners. These new forms of “Collaborative consumption” are great for the planet since it means that fewer things need to be manufactured-- and might just help us raise the most caring and sharing generation in a while too!
So what’s the key takeaway when it comes to teaching your kids about sharing: Get them involved in your own sharing efforts. If you’re genuine about sharing yourself, your children will notice.
Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Senior Director for Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach at World Wildlife Fund. She is also author of the new book, The Zero Footprint Baby.