No Sharing Required

Do you share your car with others?  Your cell phone?  Your favorite necklace or pair of jeans?  Your engagement ring?  That one-of-a-kind heirloom your grandmother passed to you?  Do you share your credit card?  Your stash of old X-Men comics?  How about your partner?  Would you willingly share any of those things just because, you know, sharing is a “virtue”?

Perhaps you might.  Perhaps some of those things you’d be happy to share with a friend.  Or a family member.  Or even someone down on their luck.  But hardly any of us would be thrilled if we were “forced” to share our most prized possessions.  Yet, our culture dictates that children should be required to share, lest they grow up to be selfish and uncaring.  If we are to apply our beliefs consistently and place ourselves in our children’s shoes, so to speak, it’s easy to see how being forced to share one of their prized possessions could be just as disconcerting as for an adult placed in a similar position.

A controversial statement?  Not really.

A controversial statement? Not really.

We do not require our children to share their toys. If the toy was given to them as a gift or if they bought it with their own money, it is theirs. They alone decide how it is utilized.  They own it.  It is their property, to share or not share as they see fit.  They alone decide how their property gets used.  Some exceptions do exist, mainly that they cannot violate another person’s body or that person’s personal property with their property.   My son cannot choose to hit his sister with his toy hammer. My daughters cannot decide to leave their dolls lying on the dining room table.  My son cannot decide to use his bow and arrow to shoot his sister or the family pooch.  As long as they are not violating another’s rights with their property, they retain the right to use it in any way they see fit.

Now, some things in the house are “community property”, such as the television, the couch, the swing set, the floor – things like that. Those items belong to everyone and must be shared. How this sharing is enforced depends on the situation.  An important note: community property really means it belongs to mom and dad.  So ultimately, if a dispute arises, my wife and I, as owners of the disputed property, have to decide how and under what conditions the property should be allocated.

I’ll give an example.  In our house, food is “community property”, meaning my wife and I own it.  We bought it.  It’s ours.  Now, if the children bought some kind of food with their own saved money, it is theirs.  They can devour it as quickly as possible, save it for a rainy day, or choose to share it with others.  Their call.  Their property, their rules.  But anything that my wife and I bought belongs to everyone.  Want a banana?  Get one.  An apple?  A handful of grapes?  Some veggies or cheese from the fridge?  Help yourself.  But exceptions exist to this, as well.  Once in a while, we’ll buy a bag of candy.  My wife and I, as owners of the bag of candy, will see to it that it gets distributed fairly; otherwise, one of the larger children would simply devour the entire bag before the smaller ones got any.  For special treats like this, we’ll enforce our property rights and not allow one or more of the children to hog the entire bag.

Getting back to children and their possessions:  what about when other children are at our house? Anything left out is considered to be share-able. If the kids don’t want to share something with their playmates (for whatever reason), we’ll ask them to “disappear” it before company arrives.  We won’t enforce this, of course.  We won’t “make” them clean-up before company arrives.  But in the event that a child guest in our home finds one of their prized possessions and attempts to play with it, not much sympathy will be given to the child who didn’t put it out of sight before our company arrived.

But isn’t sharing important? Isn’t it a virtue? Yes, sharing is important, which is all the more reason not to force it. People (even children) do not react well to being forced to do something. Okay, you ask:  then how will they learn to share?

They learn through life experience that if they won’t share their own things, others are unlikely to share with them. They learn that sharing leads to a more harmonious, enjoyable life for all. They learn that by voluntarily pooling resources, each of them is provided opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist. They learn that cooperating leads to happiness.  For instance, my daughters have various dolls and dollhouses.  Say the rightful owner of the dollhouse decides not to share with her sister.  Her sister then decides not to share some of her dolls.  This way, no one has much fun.  But if they come to the conclusion on their own that sharing their resources leads to greater opportunities for all, sharing quickly becomes not a chore, but a workable solution.

In the same vein, if Child A has a toy that Child B would like to play with and Child B has a toy that Child A would like to play with, they’re able to make agreements, on their own, that mutually benefit both of them.  Child A quickly finds out that being willing to share his toy makes Child B more willing to share hers.  In this way they learn to trade.  They learn to barter.  They learn that trade is made of win.

Virtuous behavior cannot be created through aggression.

Virtuous behavior cannot be created through aggression.

By forcing them to share, the chance to learn this is taken away. Virtuous behavior cannot be created with aggression. A parent may be able to force them to share for a time, but the end result may well be a child who does not enjoy sharing.

We promote sharing by modeling it ourselves. Unless we have a solid reason for not sharing something, we will make every effort to share with our children.  We will even encourage them to share with others because sometimes a little encouragement is helpful.  But to force them? No. They have to learn through experience that cooperating benefits everyone.  They can see the joy in a friend’s eyes when they willingly share one of their possessions.  They learn that doing good makes not only others happy, but makes them happy.  They should share because they want to, not because some parental authority dictates they must.

19 comments to No Sharing Required

  • I could not agree more. We try to focus more on turn taking than sharing, but we don’t force either. I would much rather my daughter learn through natural consequences that others won’t share with her if she doesn’t share than force her to do something which (a) I wouldn’t do and (b) she will only resent having to do.

    • jenny

      I think people need to remember how limited a child’s ability to project consequences is. A child who won’t share her legos on a Tuesday play date will not be “keeping in mind” her playdate next Thursday with her offended friend. This is much more sophisticated thinking than what a young child is able to do reliably. Abstaining from making your child share won’t necessarily allow them to make a connection with natural consequences…it will just punish the child who would like to join in and play legos.

  • Angel Tucker

    Agreed. Same policy in our house about sharing!

  • Mommy23Melody

    We are forced to share every two weeks (or month or week or whatever it is). Just look at your pay stub. Oh, and once a year, many of us are asked to share more. And you are right. Nobody I know likes to share. Funniest thing: when I have had to have Government support, my sister has grumbled at me because I was actually living off of “her” money, but she has freely loaned me money when I was in a jam with no complaints at all.

    And most people divorce their spouse when they are forced to share… It is called an affair. I have known some who have forgiven, but they are the exception, not the rule.

  • Extremely well put. I like that your children have ownership of the things given to them. Does that mean they don’t get toys and activities given to them as a group? Like building blocks or those very expensive but amazing Magna-Tiles?

  • Jess

    I love this. My children have toys that are “special” to them. It is my rule that these toys that were bought because of a special interest on their part is not up for sharing unless they want to share it.
    My mother-in-law tries to do the forced sharing(i.e. she made my son share his favorite blanket aka security object). It did not end well. She still doesn’t understand why some things for our kids are not up for sharing unless our children okay it first.
    I wholeheartedly agree with this.

  • THANK YOU! Yes, yes, yes! I have my own little soap box for this issue. Very well said!

  • threenorns

    i HATE the idea that kids “have” to share – you know what REALLY drives me mental? believe it or not – and i’m not kidding, here – there are families that *insist* that all the kids get a present when it’s someone’s birthday otherwise “it’s not fair”!

    i’m not kidding! it’s the 6yr old girl’s birthday? oh, we must have presents for the 9yr old boy, too, or he’s going to feel left out.

    *vomit*

    another thing that really pisses me off:

    it’s christmas, or a birthday, or whatever. the kid has JUST gotten the paper off his gift, hasn’t even gotten the batteries in it, and what does he hear? “come on, now, don’t be selfish – let everybody else have a chance to play with it, too!”

  • threenorns

    @Mommy23Melody: that’s not “sharing”. that’s called “payment for services rendered” and is the reason we have life’s little conveniences – things like an ambulance, cop, or firefighter on tap; animal control; paved roads; community arenas; health care; running water (hot and cold); telecommunications; retirement pensions; etc.

    as for divorce, that’s not because of “sharing”, it’s because of “theft”.

    • Evergreen Ashes

      Actually, the first one is theft. If someone steals your money, and then buys you something nice with it, they still stole your money. All of those services could be provided by businesses, and they would have to do a better job of it, too. Otherwise, no one would hire them again.

      The second one would be more like a breech of contract.

  • Shalonne

    I agree with this but didn’t always realize this was the correct way to do things so am still finding my way through the transition. My kids are 3 and 5 and the biggest issue is when one grabs a toy that belongs to another but that wasn’t being played with. Then the owner wants it back only when he/she sees the other playing with it but has no intention of playing with it or putting it away themselves. Snatching, fighting ensue.

  • Celine

    of course kids should not be forced to lend their own beloved toys, but I have a question when it comes to them becoming territorial, for ex. in a paddling pool. my gran used to bang on about me not letting anyone in her paddling pool. I know that it’s quite a common thing. I have seen it at the playground with my DD. how can you make them get the message that those things are for everybody to use who wishes to without sounding authoritarian?

  • jenny

    We have 3 kids. The oldest has MANY more toys because he’s had more birthdays and Christmases. Am I supposed to buy two or three of everything so each child can have their own and do as they please with it? Ridiculous! The eldest child must share the majority of ‘their things’ or we would go broke. And how many times will the younger kids be cheated until the eldest decides he’s feeling charitable? It’s nice to think about kids figuring out how to share by catching a sparkle in their sisters eye when they share, but that’s rarely how it happens. A toddler does not pick up on these details! I want to learn more about this style of parenting, but it just seems so unrealistic.

  • Celine – we have ‘communal toys’ called ‘family toys’ as well as personal toys and it is possible for toys to go from one category to another as the kids develop.

    The large boxes of multiple toys of a type fall into this category. The wooden railway was a communal toy but now the elder boy is less interested it has disappeared into the younger boy’s room. A whole series of construction vehicle/construction blocks were the older boy’s but the younger boy constantly wished to join in so after a conversation I bought a whole collection more of the toys on Ebay, almost doubling the quantity, and they are all now ‘family toys’ in the living room. My older boy has Transformers which are his, stay in his room, and much of the time only he is allowed to touch/manipulate them … but gradually they have been creeping out and he has been asking his younger brother to join him in his play.

    Thank you for this article!

  • TE

    I don’t force my kids to share but do strongly encourage it. What I have a problem with is when kids do not share public property and parents do not encourage them to do so. I think the idea of not sharing can be taken to extremes by some parents and that really isn’t beneficial for children. I think it should be considered more taking your turn rather than sharing when in the public domain. For example, at my daughter’s preschool, they have a limited number of scooters for the children to ride. One child had been on the scooter the entire play time and when my daughter asked if she could have a turn, the child said no. The child’s parent actually intervened because my daughter started to say it wasn’t nice to not give others a turn and the parent said, it was her child’s right then and he had gotten to it first. That to me is a bad message to send. There is a fine line between sharing your personal possessions and sharing public property. Not everyone can, or care to, distinguish between the two.

  • Melissa

    I’m totally with you, EXCEPT for the bit about how kids will eventually learn to share on their own. You write that they will eventually learn that by sharing with others, other kids will reciprocate and share with them, so they will learn that sharing is in their own best interest. I certainly hope that when my kids share, they aren’t making this calculation, that sharing will get them more stuff in the long run. The reason to share is to help others, period. Any benefit to ourselves is an unimportant side effect.

  • I like your approach. We have something similar: anything my 3yo doesn’t want to share with guests goes into a “no-sharing” box before company arrives, that we then put on a high shelf. Everything else that is out he must share as part of being a good host, with the exception of his 2 special nighttime cuddlies which we simply explain to other kids are not for sharing – and they get it. I make a point of having more than one of some things to make sharing easier, like we have multiple trains for his train set for instance to make it easier for a few kids at a time to play with it, even though my kiddo’s an only.

    I do like the point others bring up about public/communal space, where turn-taking and sharing operate under different rules than at someone’s house.

    Great post!

  • Gerald Tredennick

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say superb blog!

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