We regularly have people in our home, and at least one time each week, we have a handful of 3-5 year olds. I recently had someone ask me how my kids feel about having other kids at our house so often. She was curious because, as her kids were now a bit older, she had experienced what it's like to have other kids come over to play.
Other kids don't know your household rules. They don't know that your kids treat such and such toy with extra respect or that another toy has "I don't let anyone touch this" status. They don't know that your kids spent an hour earlier that day sorting and standing up all their books in the book shelf, or that they'll have to spend 30 minutes after they leave cleaning up and sorting the mess they left behind.
I think this is such an important topic to discuss when inviting other children into our homes. I absolutely love the opportunities that having other kids over presents to my children in the form of sharing and putting aside selfishness. I think those lessons are invaluable. I'm completely biased, but I believe my kids "share" exceptionally well at this point in time (as a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I feel like I at least have some frame of reference for that claim!).
BUT. My kids, although young, still have boundaries. This is good and healthy and I want to encourage it. They also have "special" toys or things that they are particularly fond of and need extra care. That is okay too. My kids, and their belongings, deserve respect.
So how do we encourage boundaries and respect our children and their possessions while still encouraging sharing when other kids come over?
1. My kids, at any point before people come over or during, have the opportunity to say, "this toy (book, doll, etc.) is not for other people." What does this mean, exactly? It means that they have the right to choose not to share something. I, with few exceptions, will not "force" my children to share something that they don't want to share, as I want them to find joy when they choose to share on their own. This DOES NOT mean that they can play with said toys in front of their guests, however. It means that they are choosing to not play with it either, and it goes in my bedroom or the garage or closet until the play date is over.
2. The exception to the rule above of not forcing my children to share something is when I know they're being ridiculous about a particular toy, or when they are simply refusing to share in general. For instance, if I know that they have no real care or attachment to a particular toy and that they appear to just be choosing "selfishness," I will absolutely step in and encourage them to share that toy. Sometimes this "encouragement" sounds like: "It's time to let so-and-so use this toy. You can have a turn in a few minutes." I'm okay if they are not happy with it...learning to share can be hard!
3. I will not allow my children to "unshare" every toy in their room. If they're going to have friends over, they are going to practice sharing. Mt children will not be the children who refuse to share anything when friends come over. They can make special items off limits, but sharing toys is necessary if they want to make friends!
4. Special blankets or animals with fond attachments (like the comfort items a child sleeps with) are permitted to stay out without regard for sharing. My son's special blanket? He can have it and he doesn't have to share it. No ifs, ands, or buts. It's his only.
5. My husband and I strategically put away any toys that continually cause problems. We used to have one of those balls with a handle that the kids sit on and bounce, but we quickly noticed that it was always the source of fighting when our kids had people over, so it became a "no friends allowed" toy. Also, we've found that whenever the scooters are left out, someone always gets hurt (those Razor scooters can swing around and hit ankles unintentionally, especially when friends who've never used them before decide to play with them). Those types of toys always get put away. This one has more to do with helping put some "safe guards" in place to prevent unnecessary fighting or tears and help provide an easy experience as the kids learn to play together.
6. I often encourage the other children to help clean up at the end, but often times other children leave without helping, or they leave a partial mess behind (or they try to help but nothing is put away where it belongs). I absolutely avoid saying anything negative about any messes left behind. Rather, I always help my children clean up the mess afterward. I don't ever want my children to regret having friends over to their house. I want them to have a positive view, and to understand that having people over does "cost" them something (time, energy), but that's okay, and it's totally worth it!
Basically, I feel that there has to be a healthy balance between encouraging and helping our children learn to share while being considerate of others, and protecting and encouraging the boundaries our children are building for themselves. We have done our best to insure that we are teaching our children that we respect their boundaries and care about the things they care about. We at the same time are striving to teach our children that being a good friend also means sharing what they have with other people. Being considerate of others is an important skill that we hope our children to possess.
Mostly, our children love having people over. They're learning to share, think of others, and to be good hosts. There are growing pains along the way, but we are working and learning through them.