"It's mine!" One mother's road map to learning how to teach your children to share (or not).
Not long ago, at the birthday party of my friend’s son, we went to one of those indoor bouncy house places. The first room was all bounce, but the second room had two small cars, where little kids could Flintstone their way around the room, sans socks and shoes. My son loves cars; he zeroed in on the pink-and-blue Flintstone car and I saw the look in his eyes: MINE. Does anyone like sharing? I mean, there’s a reason I hide my protein bars—MINE.
At just over two and a half, my son has a very distinct opinion about what belongs to whom, and I knew that any kid who tried to weasel my son out of that car would have some trouble. When other kids approached him, I sometimes encouraged him to let someone else have a turn. Sometimes, I said nothing.
If you google “teaching kids to share,” you get 385 million results—and lots of perspectives (like ScaryMommy’s “9 Reasons I Won’t Make My Kid Share” vs. WebMD’s “Teaching Your Kids to Share”). But most articles aren’t black-and-white, arguing that encouraging kids to share isn’t the same as interfering when your child won’t share; aka, there is a difference between snatching a toy away, giving it to the other child and yelling “YOU HAVE TO SHARE!” . . . and patiently mentioning the idea of taking turns without being hands-on (literally).
And there’s definitely social pressure at play. This isn’t just about what’s good for the development of our children and their autonomy, but how kind and generous our children seem. Because even if they’re only two, and they’re walking, talking and arguing with you sometimes like a big kid, there are limits to their empathy and their concept of time, per Parents magazine, which states that “Even structured turn-taking (‘one more minute, then it’s your turn’) can be a huge mindbender for someone with no sense of time.”
There’s also the issue of validating your child’s feelings. If a toy is taken away from them, even if it’s the other child’s “turn,” this is not a big deal for us, the adults. We pay rent or mortgages, deal with managers and coworkers . . . grown-up problems. But to our children, losing whatever object it was that they were immersed with is like missing a rent payment. In their world, it’s huge, and it pays to acknowledge that. If another child grabs a toy from your child, say: “Sorry, kiddo. I know you liked that toy, and it hurts, right?” This makes your child feel heard, at the very least.
However, Parents also suggests mentioning to the other kid to first ask next time if they can use the toy instead of taking it—which is where I start to drift here. I’m not saying I haven’t barked at a child at the playground while he was in the process of yanking my kid by the hair, but I’m not super-comfortable telling another kid what to do.
Would you? Well, I think that’s up to you.
Something I can get on board with, though, is modeling sharing myself. Sharing my popcorn with him or his dad, scooting over on the PATH to share my seat (or giving it up entirely, even) and the like. If your child is anything like mine, they mime everything you do. Might as well have them miming some good stuff.
Now for some words of wisdom from moms I know personally, regarding sharing:
--“I usually at least try to remind them to share.”
--“If [my child] takes from another kid, I will intervene (including [my child’s sibling]). And if [my child] wants something another kid has, I will tell [my child] to wait [their] turn. Or better yet, try to redirect [my child] to something else.”
--“I don’t think that kids should be forced to share their toys, their food or their bodies. Given space and in organic situations, I find that kids generally opt to share voluntarily. I think that adults intervene too much when it comes to kids playing and learning how to share. I always tell my [child] that it is nice to share but it’s also okay if he doesn’t feel like it.”
The funny thing is, all these responses are different. A second funny thing is, I don’t agree with every one of these opinions, or maybe, more accurately, I agree with some parts of all of them. But when I asked for my friends’ thoughts and they told me? A third funny thing happened. I said, “This is awesome—thanks.” And I meant it. I never thought, That’s dumb or I would never do that or Your kid is going to grow up to be a terrible human being.
It was cool that they were thinking about and considering methods regarding sharing too, and had come up with a system that works for them and their family, and abides by their principles. In response to their answers, I felt exactly this: respect.
Which is what sharing is about, really. There are 385 million articles about it on the Web because tons of methods exist and sometimes some work better than others for a particular family. I think the best thing we can do for our children—and our stressed-out fellow parents and guardians and grandparents—is to respect how they want to handle situations (like sharing, or anything) with their kids. I’ve, for lack of a better word, shared some of my thoughts about sharing in this post—but not all of them, to be honest. Because how I decide to parent is my choice.
As it is yours, with all due respect.
Kaitlin Severini is a freelance copy editor for children's books, as well as a professional writer. She works on anything from lift-the-flap books for babies to young adult novels about vampires, and everything in between.