Why You Shouldn’t Ask, “Who Had It First?”

Sharing is hard! From the earliest years, my children have struggled with the concept, and lately I’ve learned that I’m asking the wrong questions when I do try to resolve some of the arguments. (Occasionally I try to let them sort it out, but we are still in early years yet).

I’ve learned not to ask, “Now, who had it first?” And give it to the child who claimed this title of “first.” Why? Let me explain.


A single instance that it clicked, I was asking the wrong question. No, I don’t want my children taking toys and not being told it’s wrong. No, I wasn’t going to let them battle it out. I was going to start asking the right questions.

At the table one day, after I had given the kids their snacks, I hear the familiar sound of bickering over a chair. They both want it. (Never mind that there are 7 others exactly like it.) Neither are willing to give it up. The older yells a claim of being there “first” and the second follows it up with “no, you weren’t!”

Now, I would have sided with the first, as she tends to be a bit more truthful, would she have not followed up her claim with, “when I sat down this morning with my breakfast, I was sitting in this chair!”

(And thank goodness she did, because in it came a valuable lesson. For me.)

Wait a minute. Breakfast was hours ago. She is laying claim to the chair she had sat in for a few minutes, from a totally different part of today. Technically she was there, “first” that day, but this was not what I was asking.

Or was I?

I followed up my question, which now seemed to miss a certain perspective, with, “when I gave you your snacks just now, who sat down first? Just now. Not earlier.” The older child admitted that the second was seated first at this instance, but she had sat there for breakfast. And afterwards, “did you take the seat from her just now then?” She nodded.

It’s all about perspective.

This goes the same for toys, or anything really. Asking who had it “first” is all a matter of what the child’s reference point is compared to yours. You are asking about one instance in time. They may be thinking about it as “I was first this day to touch this toy” even if they’ve put it down in between. Maybe “this is the toy I was given for a present, so of course I touched it first when I received it.” It’s all in the perspective.

Now, what questions would be better to ask, to gauge whether one child is right (assuming the children are telling the truth). I’ve figured that, “Did you take it from…?” Is probably a wiser question. (Or being more specific and referring to the instance in question.) And a follow up of asking the other child if the same question, because of course, they could have snatched it before, and then there is a whole new lesson in how we treat others.

Of course, this is simplified a lot, and assuming that the truth is being told by all parties involved. You do need to use discernment in these situations, but I’ve definitely learned that my perspective is possibly completely different to my children when I ask about who was “first.”


What have you found you need to explain more when you’re asking your children questions?

5 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Ask, “Who Had It First?”

  1. Child’s reference point. This is an altogether new perspective. Never thought like that until I read your post. Going to keep this in mind when next time I am up for an argument with my 4 year old.

  2. Great post! I’ve never thought about it that way. However I can see how my kids would think this way. Thanks for the new perspective and new questioning ideas. A lot of times we get stuck asking the same questions without really thinking about how effective it really is.

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