No, you don’t have to share!

For those of you in the ‘always share your toys’ contingent, you might want to rethink that philosophy.

As school starts up again in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m sure that those of you with very young children are busily working all sorts of lessons with your kids so they’ll fit in with the rest of the kids in their class. Lessons like ‘don’t grab, ask for what you want,’ ‘say please and thank-you,’ ‘use your inside voice’ – all of which you’ve no doubt been repeating on a loop in preparation for your child starting school.

three children playing
image credit: fatcamera/Getty Images

One of the things that most parents have been teaching their children forever is to share – ‘nice children share their toys with others.’ ‘Be nice, share,’ is something you hear mothers saying all the time.

Well, perhaps it’s not wise to make your child share when they don’t want to. A recent article on the VeryWell Family site, “Why You Shouldn’t Force Your Kid to Share,” pointed out that forcing children to share sends messages that we may not want to have our kids get, including the message that grownups are in charge of who gets what and when they get it.

There are two points that I want to emphasize. The first is that when parents interfere with their children’s interactions with others, children will believe that they should depend on their parents to solve all their problems. When you see your child tussling with another child over a toy or for a place in line, do you want your child to learn that nice people let others have what they want?

Really? Why can’t your child get what he wants?

Always letting others get their way means that your child does not learn to stand up for himself. He will depend on you to solve his problems, and when he’s a teenager and should be taking charge of his life, he will continue to ask, or rely on, you do it. The result is a child who does not know how to manage his own life.

Unless your child starts early, negotiating with others for what he wants, he is going to let (expect?) you to hover over him the rest of his life. We have talked about this before, but remember, children with hovering parents have less self-confidence and generally do not believe in their own worth. They will need their parents to push them through school and through life. Lack of self-advocacy can create complications throughout his life, in work and in personal relationships – who needs that?

The second point about forced sharing is that some children will believe that they must always give in to others’ demands. There is some thinking that this may be part of the reason why we’re hearing about more abuse of children: when someone makes a demand of a child who has been taught to “always share,” he will always let the other person, usually someone older, have their way, and are more likely to agree not to tell on the abuser. After all, they have been taught that nice children do what other people tell them to do.

This is also the child who may be bullied, which is a form of peer abuse, because they will not stand up for what they want or believe. Early bullying usually takes the form of stealing from another, taking pencils, lunch money, or a favorite toy or object. Once you let someone get away with that and don’t tell on them, you’re on a slippery slope for all sorts of bullying.

Most importantly, boys need to learn that they cannot force girls to share! And girls need to learn that just because a boy wants something, he should not have it if she does not want to share it. The assumption that the louder, stronger child gets his or her way has ruled the playground for too long. Children need to learn to articulate their feelings and if that includes “I don’t want to share my toy,” they should say that.

As part of socializing your child, you will want to point out later that if they refuse to share, other children may not want to play with them. Mention that sharing is something that friends do, but friends also respect one another’s feelings.

Make sure your child knows how to say “No.” Nicely, but still “no.” Model the steps of negotiation for your children. When your child is in early school, it may feel as if you have a lawyer in the house, asking endless questions about exactly what’s “right” in interactions with other humans, but it’s important for children to know how to express their feelings and opinions in a way that is not threatening to others, and that preserves their sense of self and self-ownership.

Share your words and your ideas, but not necessarily your toys.