Why I Don’t Force My Kids To Share

“Sharing”. It’s a positive, friendly, well mannered sounding word. Wherever you find more than one small human, you will likely hear an adult encouraging some form of sharing. They are most likely doing it in a way that seems respectful and reasonable. Everything appears to be good and as it should be.

But is it a good thing?
Is it really ok to enforce sharing?
Is it teaching something valuable?
Do both little persons “win”?
Is it respectful?

I don’t think so. For the following reasons I believe the answer to the above questions is “no”.

Is it teaching something valuable?

No. It’s teaching that someone, usually bigger than you, will take something that either belongs to you, or that you are still using, and insist upon giving it to somebody else. They may have decided that it’s polite to share with guests, or that you have had a long enough turn, or that you aren’t using it anyway. Those reasons don’t trump the fact that something belongs to you that you don’t want someone else to use or that you’re still using something.
It doesn’t create an environment for free will sharing. It doesn’t allow for little people to discover that good, warm and fuzzy, intrinsic feeling that comes from independently choosing to share. When something is imposed it is human nature to resist. It becomes a lost opportunity for learning, for that feel good feeling to follow as a result of sharing.
So, the quick answer. While somebody can make sharing occur, it most likely will not result in a child developing an intrinsic and pure desire to share. Thus, not teaching anything valuable at all.

Do both little persons benefit?

No. The child being forced to share is left feeling controlled, hard done by and full of justified resentment. The child being given the desired object may feel that immediate sense of gratification, but they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn a greater lesson. They have missed out on learning to respect another person’s belongings. They have missed out on learning to wait or problem solve a solution. There may be a way to play together that both children are happy with. They have also missed out on learning to respect another person. If someone is already using something it is not ok to immediately be given that thing simply because it is desired. So the net result is that noone really “wins” as a result of enforced sharing.

Is it respectful?

No. As I touched on above, it is not respectful of the person being made to share and ultimately it is not respectful of the recipient either.
When I’m faced with a question regarding how to approach an issue that arises between my children, I often try to imagine the equivalent scenario in my own, adult life. So, would it ever be ok or respectful for a third party to insist that I share my car, my phone, my wallet etc with another person against my wishes? Definitely not. I see no difference when it comes to children.
If something belongs to them - they get to choose if someone else can use it.
If they are currently using a mutually owned toy - they get to finish using it before passing it on to another person.

What about those public places when lots of kids are waiting for a turn?

There are 20 kids waiting behind your child at an activity station at the children’s museum, or five waiting for a turn on a swing at the park. In those situations it’s perfectly reasonable and still respectful to encourage your child to allow others to have a turn (once they have enjoyed a good chunk of time doing the activity of course). I say something like…
“Are you ready to let the next person waiting have a turn now?”
If they say “no”, I ask…
“Ok, let’s have a few more swings then we’ll let somebody else have a turn. How many pushes would you like?”
My kids often happily comply in this kind of situation. If they are still reluctant, I say…
“I know you’re having fun and want an even longer turn. We’re going to let someone else have a turn now and do — instead for a while. Maybe we can come back later.”
It’s ok in this scenario to encourage shared usage of public property when others are waiting for a turn. That’s teaching consideration of others while still honouring your own child’s desires.

So how will they learn to share?
They will learn by watching the people they love. Our children are constantly observing us. They watch when you share food with guests, or lend a friend an outfit, or buy a coffee for someone.  They will eventually model sharing. No guilt, coercion, or force is required for a child to learn to share. As they do it, they notice that good, intrinsic feeling that occurs. They learn that sharing is a positive thing.

As I’ve followed these principles, I have seen children develop beautiful and, quite often, selfless sharing abilities. But they have been allowed to share at their own pace and on their own terms.

For a quick but informative read on the topic check out It’s OK Not To Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker.

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