It’s tempting to force children to share, especially when they fight or seem rude. But see why kids shouldn’t be forced to share, and what to do instead.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t think kids should be forced to share.
A few weeks ago, my toddler was scooping sand at the park. Another two-year-old walked over and stood nearby and wanted to have a turn with the shovel.
I told my son, “It looks like he wants to play too. Do you want to take turns scooping the shovel? Maybe you can hand him the shovel so he can scoop, and when he’s done, you can take a turn.”
He obliged and handed the boy his shovel. They continued taking turns, handing the shovel back and forth as each one finished his turn.
Then more recently, my toddler was spinning the steering wheel at the playground. As he walked a few steps away, another little boy came up and said he wanted to spin the wheel too.
I asked the boy, “Do you want a turn?” My son looked on and said his own name, as if saying, “That’s mine.” I told my son, “He’s taking a turn at the wheel. When he’s ready to move on, then it can be your turn again.”
The boy spun the wheel for a bit and then left, so my son started spinning the wheel again.
Why kids shouldn’t be forced to share
Kids should have an opportunity to do share when they’re ready instead of being forced to share. They’re likelier to have a favorable view of sharing when they take the initiative. If they’re forced to share, they’ll think maybe sharing isn’t all that great after all.
I’ve also noticed kids are abruptly forced to give up their toy when they’re still absorbed in it. I wouldn’t want to cut my toddler off from focusing and finishing a task only to have his work whisked away. I don’t want him to stop filling a bucket with sand because another boy wanted a turn.
I’ve seen kids pouting with giving up toys for good reason: they weren’t finished learning or playing yet. Imagine playing a game on your phone and your sister walked over, peeking at what you’re doing. Suddenly your husband says, “Okay, hand it over to her now. You have to share.”
Being forced to share is tough
I also wouldn’t want my toddler to share and give up an item because I want him to stand up for what’s important to him.
That might seem intense, but if an item is important to him, I want him to learn it’s okay to hang on to it. He shouldn’t always give up what he wants. Others shouldn’t push him around or tell him to keep quiet.
He shouldn’t be mean about it, but he should still know his feelings and wants are valid. If he has enough conviction for something, he should learn how to hold on to them.
When the opportunity to share comes up, I ask him if he wants to rather than taking it away without his consent. This is a simple act of respect. I can’t imagine forcing adults to share without asking. We should give the same respect to children, too.
The ability to resolve social conflicts
A downside of forced sharing is denying a child the ability to resolve his own social conflicts.
It’s painful to see kids in conflict because we don’t want their feelings hurt. Especially over simple problems. But take a step back and be a moderator or a referee instead. As long as they’re not hurting others, allow your child to experience the conflict.
As awkward or difficult it may be, they learn much more than you stepping in.
Why do we feel like good parenting means forcing kids to share?
Maybe it’s because our parents told us to share in our own childhood. The common scenario we see at the playgrounds are parents telling their kids to share. It’s like we accept this as the normal thing to do.
Or maybe it’s because sharing is a wonderful value to instill in our children so we think we have to force them to do so. While the intent is good, babies and toddlers are too young to understand the idea of sharing the way adults do.
To most babies and toddlers, ego-centric that they are, everything is theirs. So when adults talk about sharing, kids get mad and don’t understand why they had to give up a toy.
Another reason parents force kids to share is to save face with others. I’ve jumped in on occasion when my son isn’t sharing, as if to tell the other mom, “Oh no, he’s usually an angel. I don’t know why he’s acting this way. This is so not like him!”
It’s as if we jump in and force them to to prove we’re not terrible parents.
What do instead
If kids shouldn’t be forced to share, what should we do instead?
If two or more kids want the same toy, moderate a turn-taking situation. One child gets to use it for X amount of times before handing it to another. Highlight the positive outcomes of turn-taking. See who can make the ball bounce the highest. Or how high they can make the mountain of sand from their combined efforts.
Let your kids determine how to play together.
Can you tell I’m pretty hands-off yet? Still, I value the idea of allowing kids to turn a problem into a solution. Research has shown that scarcity breeds cooperation. Don’t force kids to relinquish or replace a toy. Instead, see how they can use a single toy to better cooperate with one another.
Phrase sharing in a positive light.
You can still “force” kids to share, just not so sternly. “Looks like he likes your fire truck. Maybe you can show him how it works.” This will be met with much less protests than saying, “Share your fire truck.”
Teach your child to share.
Rather than forcing kids to share and missing out on showing why it’s fun to do so, highlight its importance. You can say, “Looks like you have a new playmate now!” or “Let’s see who can throw the ball the farthest.” Friendships and cooperation become the benefits of sharing.
Give them a few turns first.
Kids usually don’t mind sharing, so long as it’s not so abrupt. If your child is still using the swing even if another kid wants a turn, tell him, “You’ve been at the swing for a while now. How about 10 more pushes and then we let another kid have a go?”
Honor your child’s wishes.
If your child doesn’t want to give up the swing, or share the shovel or hand over the ball, let it go. Your child isn’t any worse off for not sharing. He may be having an off day. He may just be focusing on playing right now. He may just want to be alone. Or that toy may just be important to him. All those reasons aren’t bad. They don’t mark your child as any worse than someone who’s in the mood to share and socialize.
If I were to force my toddler to share, he may assume sharing is when you have to give up something you like. Or he may not learn to fight for what’s important to him.
Instead, highlight the benefits of sharing: helping another person feel good or finding new friends and new ways to play.
Get more tips about kids’ social interaction:
- 7 Ways to Teach Your Toddler to Share
- 9 Playground Rules You and Your Kids Should Remember
- How to Help Your Social Child Handle Peer Rejection
- Why You Shouldn’t Solve Your Child’s Social Conflicts
- Why Forcing Your Child to Say Sorry Isn’t a Good Idea
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