"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
October 23, 2013
On Cooking Shows and Sharing
by Emily S. Jorgensen

My husband and I love to watch Master Chef. In fact, it is the only TV show we watch, being just too busy for anything else. We have a weekly night where we sit and watch the latest episode while we fold laundry after the kids are in bed. I know, we live such a wild life.

This year, the folks at Master Chef have added a second show — Master Chef Junior, where the contestants are kids cooking absolutely amazing, jaw-dropping dishes.

As we have followed this secondary show, we have noticed something really interesting. While the contestants in the regular, grown-up version are always putting each other down and making a point to one-up each other or complain about each other, the children talk about how they want to win and be the best chef, but in the same sentence will say only nice things about the other contestants.

I think the worst we have heard from any child contestant about another is, “He’s a really good cook so I’m hoping this challenge trips him up.”

I am not so naïve to think that the show’s producers aren’t behind the scenes manipulating contestants into speaking badly about each other on camera in the adult version. Also, I am sure that baiting children into being mean to each other doesn’t make for good ratings, so this show doesn’t make an exactly scientific case study in adult vs. child behavior.

However, regardless of why the adults are sometimes vicious and often backbiting and the children are always sweet and supportive, it is an interesting reflection of our culture that this dichotomy is acceptable — and maybe even expected.

Many years ago, when I had only one child who was approaching nursery age, I had an enlightening conversation with my visiting teacher, who had four children. She said that she had read that children are not even capable developmentally of sharing until they were four years old. She pointed out the bizarre expectations we have for our children to share everything they own with a friend who comes over to play, when no adult would ever do this or be expected to.

Think about it. Do you expect your neighbor to lend you his car because you think it looks fun? Do you take your lunch to work expecting your coworkers to help themselves to part of it? Do you feel comfortable with the person in the next cubicle reaching over and grabbing your stapler without permission? Do you expect even your best bosom buddy to come over and start rifling through your cupboards and drawers?

And yet, we expect our three- or four-year-old to stand back and smile pleasantly when the neighbor kid comes over and wants to play with all of her toys, eat her snacks that you buy just for her, and makes a mess she is expected to help clean up.

It seems unreasonable of us to expect more graciousness of children than we expect of ourselves. This is not to say that we shouldn’t teach, model, or expect children to learn to share and get along. Of course we should do these things. However, we shouldn’t expect their generosity to be boundless. That is just not reasonable.

The lesson I took from that conversation with my visiting teacher all those years ago was that learning to share is a process and that it is unreasonable to expect my child to share everything, all at once. Also, if I force him too, the lesson he will learn is not how to share, but how to feel powerless in his relationships with peers.

The way our family has decided to deal with this is by allowing our children the option of choosing a few precious toys that they don’t want to share before their friends come over. We place these toys somewhere out of sight and out of reach with the understanding that everything else is fair game for the friends coming over and that we need to be generous and kind about it.

If the visiting children ask about one of these “no-share” toys, we simply tell them it is not available today. Of course, we also enforce turn-taking with toys for which demand outweighs supply.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, fighting over toys and games happens. A friend of mine relayed once how she was so tired of the fighting surrounding a particular toy in their house that one day while her children were bickering about it, she plucked it out of their hands, broke it in half right in front of them, and threw it away.

Of course, she felt terribly guilty about it later, but I told her I thought she basically did the right thing.

We have tried to teach our children that no toy or game is more important than their brother or sister (or friend). If our children are fighting over a toy, it gets taken away and put on time-out for a while. When we do this, we always say, “This toy is not more important than your sister/brother/friend,” so they know exactly why it is being taken away.

They learn pretty quickly that if they don’t want it taken away they had better find a way to share it. It is gratifying to hear them set up sharing plans with each other on their own. “OK, I will get it for 5 minutes, and then you will get it for 5 minutes, and then she will get it for 5 minutes. Mommy, how do you set the timer?”

It is my hope that by letting them have some power over what they share and how that they will grow up wanting to be kind and generous with others and realizing that people are always more important than things.

This year the adult Master Chef winner was the man who was willing to share ingredients when others forgot theirs. I can’t remember him saying anything ugly about the other contestants. It felt like karma when he won. Before he won, he was asked how he would feel if his choice to help another contestant cost him the win, and he responded that if he didn’t help he wouldn’t be able to look at himself in the mirror when this was all done.

Yes, that’s the inner moral sense I want for my children. And, unlike Hollywood’s expectations, I hope they keep it in adulthood.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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