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Why I Don't Make My Son Share

Posted by on Jun. 5, 2014 at 11:59 AM
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1 mom liked this


There is a sharing policy at my son's preschool. It's a parent-run co-op, so we have to have policies like this so that we will all handle situations relatively the same way. The policy is that a child can keep a toy as long as they want to. If another child wants the toy, they have to wait until the first child is done with it. We'll even "save" toys for the child if they have to go to the bathroom, go to the snack table, etc. so that it won't get taken before they're done. This applies to anything in the yard or school that can be played with, including swings and monkey bars.

At first, it didn't really occur to me to wonder why this was the policy. I just went with it, because that's the rule, and it didn't seem like a big deal to me. The kids all know the rule, so outside of maybe their first two weeks at the school, they don't throw a giant fit when you tell them, "You can have it when Sally Jo is done." But lately I've been noticing a totally different attitude toward sharing in other places we go, and I'm starting to really know exactly why this is the school's policy.

Two Questionable Sharing Practices

Here are a couple of examples of questionable sharing practices that I've seen recently. The first comes from a good friend of mine. (And I hope she doesn't mind that I use her story as an example.) She and her almost-2-year-old were at the park one day. He had brought a small car from home to play with. Another child, a little bit older, wanted to play with the car and was demanding that my friend's son give him the car. A typical toddler scuffle ensued, and the other mother told her son, "I guess his mom didn't teach him how to share." Never mind the fact that the car belongs to him and that when someone asks you to share, "No" is a perfectly legitimate response.

My second story happened one morning at the local rec center. Friday mornings they fill the gym with tons of Little Tykes climbing structures and those plastic cars they can drive around, tricycles, big balls, even a bouncy castle. Basically a toddler's dream play room. There's this one red car in particular my son really likes playing with, and the last time we went, he drove it around the entire hour and a half we were there. While most of the moms with smaller kids will shadow their kids as they play, my son is old enough now that I can sit on the sidelines and watch. From there I watched a mom whose son wanted to drive the car approach my son repeatedly, saying, "OK, now it's time for you to give him a turn!" Of course he ignored her, and eventually she gave up. There were a million other little cars for her son to drive, including one that was almost identical. Or maybe I would have stepped in at some point.

Real-World Lessons

I don't agree with the approach of the mothers in either of these situations. I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it. And I can understand the desire to give your children everything they want; we all have it. But it's a good lesson for you both to learn that this isn't always possible, and you shouldn't step all over other people to get these things.

Furthermore, this is not how things work in the real world. In your child's adult life, he's going to think he's owed everything he sees. This is already happening in the next generation. I read a fascinating article about how today's teens and 20-somethings are expecting raises and promotions at their jobs for reasons like, "I show up every day."

If you doubt my reasoning, think about your own day-to-day adult life. You wouldn't cut in front of someone in the grocery checkout line just because you didn't feel like waiting. And most grown adults wouldn't take something from someone, like a phone or a pair of sunglasses, just because they wanted to use it. (Well, maybe some of you would. In which case, this post may not be for you.)

It's hard, as with so many things about parenthood, but let's teach our kids how to cope with disappointment, because it happens. And we won't always be there to fix it for them. Let's teach them how they can get things they want through diligence, patience, and hard work.

How do you feel about the concept of sharing where young children are concerned? I know you likely don't have a "policy," as I sure didn't before the preschool told me they had one. Now I notice a variety of different takes on the subject from the parents I see around. Makes me wonder if we need to be talking about this issue a little bit more.

by on Jun. 5, 2014 at 11:59 AM
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by on Jun. 5, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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The first commenter on the article makes very vaild points, imo:

While I agree with your opinion of the first scenario - no child in a public setting should be coerced into sharing their personal items - I have issues with the second. Your child really loved the red car - and so did the other child. Why were his feelings and attachment to the red car not as important as your son's? There were lots of other cars - yes, so perhaps your child could have been distracted away from the one he was on and ultimately been just as happy on one of the others, but instead you callously relegated that burden to the other parent. This was not an issue of not forcing your son to share a personal item. You allowed your child to monopolize a communal toy in a setting where presumably everyone had paid to have equal access to the equipment/toys, for an hour and a half, essentially for no better reason than because he got there first. And the other kid should just go be happy with something else. That was incredibly selfish. I get that a 3 year old has no empathy, but you should have. Any clever parent could have come up with a distraction that would have gotten him off the car so the other kid could have a turn.

This "I don't force sharing" philosophy, which stems from sound understanding of child development, can be taken to crazy extremes. I saw one mother boast about how she didn't force her son to share a special toy of his while at a playdate at their home, because "I don't share all my stuff with everyone who comes to my house." Well, that's true, but then, other adults don't come to my house to play with my belongings, they come to chat and drink coffee. Kids, however, come over specifically to PLAY, and allowing your child to parade around with a special item he refuses to share is like inviting over a newly-diagnosed diabetic and eating a giant plate of cake and ice cream in front of them. Is it your right? Sure, but is it kind, compassionate, or hospitable? Kids need to be taught some things, and one of those things is, "If there is a special toy you don't want other kids touching, then it needs to be put away while our guests are here."

I find this to be particularly taken to extremes among those who only have one child. Parents of siblings know that the world does not end if kids are occasionally obligated to give up something they are hoarding to someone else. But an only-child rarely has to share anything until friends come over, and may have trouble adjusting to the sight other kids enjoying their stuff. And since often an only child is the center of his own and his parents' universe, many parents just wind up bolstering that natural possessiveness instead of walking the child through the challenge.

by Bronze Member on Jun. 5, 2014 at 1:15 PM

I am in the middle on this one.  I don't think children should be forced to share, but they most certainly should be encouraged to.

If my child asks to play with a toy that another child is playing with and that child says no, that is a legitimate answer.  I've taught my children that they aren't entitled to get something just because they ask, and that concept applies on the playground as well.

In the case of the red car at the rec centre, I can see both sides.  However, ultimately it is the responsibility of the other mother to teach her son that you cannot force someone to share something and to redirect him.  I wouldn't have just sat there though, I would have at the very least encouraged my son to try something new and give the other boy a chance with the red car.  I would not have forced him though.  Just as I wouldn't expect another mother to force her child to share with mine.  I would redirect him, and if he threw a fit about it we would leave.

It's the same thing as offering an apology.  If a child hurts my child and then apologizes, it is up to my child to decide whether to accept the apology or not.  My child is old enough to know if an apology is genuine or forced, and can use their own judgement to determine whether they want to forgive the person (this does not however apply to accidents, if someone apologizes for something that was clearly an accident, my child is expected to accept the apology out of politeness).

by Lina on Jun. 5, 2014 at 1:19 PM
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I believe if its their personal belongings it is fine but if it is for a preschool or public place they should share.

by guerrilla girl on Jun. 5, 2014 at 2:27 PM
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When my kids were toddlers/pre-k and had play dates over, I always asked then before the company arrived if there was any special toys they would not like sharing. I helped them put the special things away with the understanding that all the other toys were for sharing. It worked great.
by Ruby Member on Jun. 5, 2014 at 2:33 PM
He shares but it isn't consistent. Probably asking a lot for consistency from a three year old.
by Gold Member on Jun. 5, 2014 at 2:38 PM
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I made mine share.  I didn't want to raise brats. 

by Whoopie on Jun. 5, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Quoting atlmom2:

I made mine share.  I didn't want to raise brats. 

Ditto- maybe it was the time?

by on Jun. 5, 2014 at 3:14 PM
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I expect my daughter to share and be gracious in school and when we have guests in our home. I don't expect her to share her toys with kids she doesn't know in public places like parks, pools etc. I dislike when adults expect me to make my daughter share her toys. It rarely happens.

by KK on Jun. 5, 2014 at 3:15 PM

I don't expect our kids to share everything they have, but our policy has always been if you don't want to have to share it or there is not enough for everyone then it's not something that is taken out around other children.

At school, when I volunteer we certainly don't require the kids to share everything.  Of course there are some kids that seem to believe because they simply want something they should get it.  I'm pretty okay with letting them have their feelings without giving in to the temper tantrum that follows being told they need to find another math game, pen, etc.  

We have had issues with my nephew's whose parents seem to think it's perfectly reasonable to take everything away from all the other kids simply because their own children don't think the kids should get to play with it, even when it isn't their own child's toy.    My nephew once brought a ball to a child's party, threw a fit when it attracted the attention of all the children and then in response to the fit my brother's wife took all the balls away from the kids so my nephew would settle down.  

by Platinum Member on Jun. 5, 2014 at 3:15 PM
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Her only concern seems to be what this technique teaches the kid being shared with - I taught DD to share because I wanted her to understand the value human interaction has OVER material possessions. Its learning to be charitable. Of course there are times when sharing is more appropriate then others, age matters, etcetera. I agree with the first reply, with the addition that I don't worry that my DD sharing is going to enable entitled attitudes.
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