The skill of sharing

I’ve been a parent for a little over a year now, and met a lot of other parents and their babies. I’ve noticed that each time a baby learns a new skill, his parents become ecstatic:

“Ooo, he is crawling!”

“Aw, he said, ‘Mama!’”

“Look, he’s using his finger to point at things!”

And so on.

If you don’t have kids it’s difficult to understand how exciting it is for parents when their child learns a new skill, but perhaps this helps paint the picture: The very moment my son took his first few steps, my wife and I started jumping around the living room like we’d just won the World Series.

While skills like walking and talking are exciting, the one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the skill of sharing. The seeds of this begin at about six months to a year old. Around this time you’ll find that many babies decide to spontaneously pick up toys or other objects and hand them to you.

My one-year-old son Nolan is a particularly enthusiastic participant in this. He gives things to everyone. Often things you may or may not want, like his slobbery binky, or a random stick he found on the ground.

And yet you can’t say no, because when he holds out a dirty sock with those tiny hands and looks at you with those big baby eyes, he is just too damn cute to refuse. And when Nolan gets in his sharing moods, he hands random objects to my wife and me and to just about anybody he sees at restaurants, baby classes, and public parks.

Happily, just about everyone accepts the gift and says in a cute baby voice, “Thank you!” Nolan then walks away satisfied and goes to search for something else to give.

The most fascinating part is that we never prompted our son to do this. We never gave him a toy and said, “Okay, now share it with somebody else.” Instead, he just spontaneously started giving things to people. It reached its peak one day while I was sitting on the couch watching Nolan play, and he started bringing his toys over to me one-by-one. Within minutes he had handed me a huge pile of toys, then walked away happily.  

But it wasn’t my idea. It was his. It’s like he learned the skill of sharing on his own.

And now he’s teaching me.