The Parenting Coach: To Share or Not To Share

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gilabrown110BY GILA BROWN, M.A.

We like it when our kids share their things.  More accurately, we like it when they don’t fight over each other’s things.  When our little ones hand a toy to someone else, we often thank them for ‘sharing’.  When our kids are older, we might insist that they share the phone, the TV, the computer, etc.

Ownership is a funny thing when it comes to kids.   In the adult world we don’t expect people to share with each other, nor would we ever direct someone to share what is theirs.  We generally do not share our rooms, our cars, or our cell phones.  We can appreciate if and when someone does choose to share something, such as his or her dessert, a cab or the morning paper, but we would certainly not expect it.  We do not typically share our ‘toys’ or our space, so why do we expect our kids to share their things?

Demanding our kids to share their things has three consequences.  First, it perpetuates the parent-child power struggle.  It denies kids from having a say in their own worlds and reinforces that we have all the control.  While in many ways we do, making demands about items that children perceive to be their own only perpetuates the ever-present power struggle.  In order to avoid the struggle, we need to allow for children to maintain some power in their own lives.  In some cases, that might mean allowing a child not to share.

Secondly, it chips away at our efforts to teach respect.  Just as we wouldn’t demand that a neighbor share his lawnmower, we should not demand that a child share something that they are not ready or willing to share.  The only way we can raise children who are respectful towards us is by modeling respect for them and others.  If we do not show respect for our kids, we have no chance of earning their genuine respect.  If we do show them respect, they will reciprocate by being more cooperative, compassionate and understanding.

Lastly, demanding that children share teaches them to devalue generosity.  If sharing is something that they have to do, then it is unlikely to be something they want to do.  In fact, if they feel that their belongings are at the mercy of someone else’s decisions, they are even more likely to want to hold on to them with all their might.  This dynamic is unlikely to foster any desire to share of their own will.

Ultimately, we all want to raise children to be generous, respectful and independent.  However, it is important that we consider the best way to achieve that.  Instructing a child to be giving, or rewarding him for sharing, are ineffective ways of teaching generosity or respect.  The only way to truly teach our children these values is to model them ourselves.

Modeling behavior for our children simply means being the people we want them to be.  Live generously, but don’t try to demand generosity.  Allow children to make their own decisions about what to share and let them know that their choices are acceptable, even if they are not the same choices we would make.

Here’s a good tip for the younger ones.  Create a box or area for items and toys that belong to the collective family.  These are the items that belong to no one and are shared by all.  Prior to inviting friends or family over to play, discuss the visit with your child.  They can pull out any toys they are comfortable sharing.  Encourage them to put away any toys that they do not want shared.  Guests can make use of the collective family toys and any others that were specifically identified as sharable.

By giving kids the power to make these decisions, and honoring their choices, we show them respect and understanding.  Validating children’s feelings in this way, models the behavior that we hope to instill in them.  Feeling heard and understood allows them to be more respectful of others, more compassionate, more generous and more cooperative.

As Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

© Gila Brown, 2009

Gila Brown, M.A. is a Child Development Expert and Parent Coach, with over 10 years of teaching experience. She specializes in parenting school-age children with grace, using principles of attachment parenting, positive disciple and effective communication. Visit to sign up for a free newsletter.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • LIsa

    Gila, I have a family member who was raised this way and all it seemed to teach him was to place a high value on “things” and to feel free to borrow from others, but never reciprocate. As a teenager now, these traits of his are pretty unpleasant for others to experience. I know you’re the child expert, but I don’t agree with this advice of yours.

  • Holly

    I just found your site and I especially LOVE this article!!!
    I can’t agree with you more on this topic!!! I think saying, “Share!” and expecting or forcing a child to turn over an item or turn teaches nothing about true sharing. Hearing that phrase, “So and so, share!” grates on my nerves almost more than anything.

    If you were out shopping and holding a vase you just found on sale to determine if you wanted to purchase it, you would be outraged if another shopper approached and said, “Give me that vase this instant. I need to look at it right now!” No, that is not appropriate adult behavior, so why would we reinforce this type of behavior in children!?! We would expect the other adult to wait until we were finished looking at the vase, before they expected to be able to hold the vase. I guess if it was an exceptionally crowded and frantic sale, we would accept a friendly conversation starter and request from the other adult to notify us of their interest. Such as, “Hey, that is a great vase. What do you think about it?” A socially acceptable way to express interest and notify you of their desire to take a closer look when you are finished. Knowing someone else was interested, we would put the vase down within a reasonable amount of time.

    With young children it can be the same way. We can teach them behaviors they will continue to use as adults. For example, if a boy is playing with a toy airplane and a girl walks up and tries to take the plane away (her way of requesting to play with it) we can intervene and teach BOTH children how to handle the situation in a way that will be appropriate through their lifetime. Give the kids some words! “Susie, it looks like you want a turn to play with the plane. It looks like Fred is playing with it right now. Let’s let him know you want a turn when he is done. Susie, say ‘Fred I want a turn please.’” Then turn to Fred and say, “Fred, when you are all done, please give Susie the plane. Susie would like a turn when you are all done.” Nine times out of ten it is only a few seconds until he gives her the plane, but it is HIS choice and SHE learns to wait. If he doesn’t turn over the plane in a little while, then talking to him about “how these toys are for everyone” and figuring out a plan to help him would be good. Of course these words and actions depend on the children’s ages and play setting. There are natural consequences to never sharing – nobody will want to play with you or share with you! This method teaches reciprocation, but requires constant intervention and teaching and respecting the emotions of children. So it takes more work than simply shouting, “Share!” from across the room.

    I have a friend with a young daughter (2 1/2 years) and if any child walks up to her with an interest in a toy she is holding, the parents say, “Share!” and she immediately turns over the toy and they heap praise over her for being a “good” girl. It makes me ache because it teaches her not to respect herself, her feelings, and ultimately she is under the control of others. I think this is very dangerous to the concept of “self.” What about when she is a teenager? If a boy makes a request and she likes him, will she turn herself over to him, or will she have the self esteem to determine what SHE wants? Any thoughts on this?

    BTW, Thanks for the great articles!

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