Should You Force Your Children to Share? - Blog

Should You Force Your Children to Share?

Published Date: 09/16/19

The short answer to this question is no. You shouldn’t force children to share. But that’s not why you are here, is it? You want to know why. Why shouldn’t you force your little ones to share?

I know this is a controversial stance to take, but just hear me out. We have all been taught that our kids need to learn to share, that generosity is a good thing. But put yourself in your child’s shoes at that moment when you are forcing them to share. Here is a great scenario to help you do exactly that.

Imagine yourself and your little angel at the park. He is playing with a friend. In his hands he has his favorite truck, the one he takes with him everywhere he goes. After some time watching them play, you ask him to hand the truck over to his friend, he has played with it long enough. He needs to share it. He can play with another toy.

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Now put yourself in his shoes. This is your favorite truck. Why do you have to give it to anyone else? It is yours; everyone knows it is yours. You do not like anyone else playing with it. Why is your mother making you watch someone else experience the joy that should be yours? Why should you be forced to give up something you love? You are confused, and everything inside you tells you that this is not fair.

From an early age, we have an inner voice that tells us when something doesn’t feel right. However, as we grow, this inner voice is gradually smothered, and in its place, we start listening to the voice that tells us to do what feels right for everyone else but ourselves.

Why is a good child the one who shares their toys and never acts out? Sure, generosity is a great trait, but do children that young truly understand the concept of empathy? How well do you, as an adult, understand this complex concept? How much do you expect your child to understand about it?
Forcing your child to share is counter-productive for many reasons. Here are a few:

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1.    It teaches them that sharing feels bad. When you force your child to share, it is you who is doing the sharing. They are left with a sour feeling and the understanding that generosity is something that needs to be avoided at all costs. And this is exactly what you do NOT want.

2.    Some things are special. Perhaps the toy holds a special meaning to them. Do not torture them by making them watch someone else paly with it. It is not fair of you as the parent to force this upon them, even at the comfort of the other child. Accept that some things are just too special to share.

3.    Empathy is a complex concept. You cannot expect a child under the age of three to grasp it. If you want your child to be generous, model the behavior yourself and they will gradually learn from you. It will eventually come to them. And you know what? This only works as your child grows older. So, if they are still quite young, let them be young children and do not force them to act empathically when they have no clue why they are being made to do things that make them sad.

4.    Your child deserves respect, autonomy, and the opportunity to exercise their basic rights. Sharing is a great thing, but only if one chooses to do it. When an adult forces them to share, they learn that adults have power over them, and adults can make them do anything, even if they do not want to. You want your child to grow up knowing that they can make some decisions on their own. You do not want a mindless robot that obeys every word you say. Show them that they deserve respect.

5.    They need to learn the concept of ownership and responsibility. When you force them to share, these concepts go right over their heads. Children need to learn that there are a few things that belong to them. They are responsible for them and need to care for them. There are a few things that belong to their parents, too, and no one can force their parents to share those things. In the same way, no one can force them to share the things they own. Let them understand that no one is entitled to their things, just like they are not entitled to other people’s things. Sharing is the prerogative of the person who owns the thing.

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6.    When you force your child to share, you imparting a wrong world view about the world we live in. In the real world, no one will give them anything simply because they want it. They will have to get their own, or wait in line, or go without. They need to understand these things from an early age.

7.    When you do not force your kids to share, you teach them valuable lessons in patience. They begin to understand that no one is entitled to everything they see, and they cannot have whatever they want when they want it. This is a lesson that can only be learnt when your child is not forced to share, and reinforced when they want something another child has and that child is not obligated to share either.

8.    Forcing your child to share also sends very wrong messages to your child. Your child gets to see first-hand that crying loudly gets you whatever you want. They also see that if someone asks for something, you need to stop whatever you are doing, no matter how fun it is, and comply with their request. Finally, they see that parents and adults make rules, and they decide who gets what when. Their feelings do not matter.

So, what’s the alternative? Your child obviously can’t hoard all the toys, can they? Well, I suggest a diplomatic approach to things. If you are expecting a friend over, or if there is going to be a playdate soon, involve your child in selecting toys can be played with as a team. Let them set those aside, along with toys that are too special to share. Then put the special toys away. Let playtime with friends be exclusively playtime with the sharing toys.

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Here are a few more things you can do instead of forcing your child to share:
•    Teach them to use their words and work things out with their friends. Let them learn to stand up for themselves and advocate for what they want. By doing so, they will learn to negotiate and to speak up for themselves and others in a respectful and kind way.
•    Equip them with the right words to use when such a situation arises. Teach them that tantrums are not the solution.
•    Encourage them to regulate themselves. How can they tell they have had enough? This will build self-discipline.
•    You should also teach them to ask for a turn, then be patient enough to wait for that turn. And when they take their turn, to understand when the turn is over and hand over the toy to the next child without a fuss. This are all skills that cannot be learnt when an adult forces them to share.  
•    Teach them that when someone else is using something, it is not available. Although this sounds quite simple, it is still incredibly important that your child to understands it from an early age. When they understand this, they will be less likely to demand that another child hand over a toy. Have this as a rule and be firm with it. If they want something, let them ask the other person to let them know when they will be done with it.

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It is also important to mention that this does not mean that you do not encourage sharing at all. Sharing is good, and it should be encouraged at all times. All I’m saying is that we need to let our kids decide what they want to do more. If they want to share their toys, that’s perfect! More fun for everyone. However, if they choose not to, that’s ok too.

Final Thoughts
There is no rule book on sharing. By its very nature, it is a very vague concept. Although at its core it is a thing of beauty, it is incredibly vague, something that makes it very confusing and frustrating to young children.

Generosity is not something that children learn by being forced to share their toys. It is something that they learn from the behavior that their parents model. It is a life skill that is learnt continuously throughout their lives, and not through something as simple and thoughtless as mindlessly being forced to share the things they treasure.

The best way to raise that kind, generous, caring, loving child that is the envy of everyone around them is to model exactly that behavior in yourself as their parent. Above all else, understand that the ‘selfish’ phase is exactly that, a phase. It will pass. So go with the flow and do not fret over the little things.

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