When we teach our toddlers to share, it’s often related to a few different scenarios.
We teach them to share their snacks, we teach them to share space, and we teach them to share their toys. In these examples, sharing actually means a few different things: giving away half their food, sharing space sitting on a bench, or giving up the toy they were using.
It’s no wonder sharing is a challenging concept to get across to the little ones; we keep changing the definition and expect them to understand.
Sharing can teach children kindness and to put the needs of others over that of themselves. It helps raise considerate, selfless children.
However, there’s some aspects of teaching kids to share that my husband and I don’t completely agree with.
Here’s why we don’t teach our kids they need to share their toys…
We’ve all seen it a thousand times: a child is playing happily with a toy, until a second child comes along and wants to take it. The first child refuses to give it up, so the second child gets upset. Then a parent requests the first child to “share”, and insists the item be given to the crying child. Sharing is caring, right?
Well, sort of.
Let’s think about that for a moment. To the child who was originally playing with the toy, they’re taught that if someone else wants something, they have to give it to that person. Their turn is automatically over because someone else decided they wanted the item. This child can feel disrespected and less important.
What about to the child who tries to take it, gets upset when it’s withheld, then as a result gets given the item? It’s showing them they are entitled to anything they want, even if the other party says no.
This is how my husband and I navigate the same scenario with the boys:
The child who has the toy originally has the right to that toy, until they decide they’re done with it. We are teaching them to say “Sorry, I’m using it. You can have it when I’m done.”
Think of it this way: you are sitting down reading a novel. Another adult comes along and says, “I want that” and takes it out of your hands.
Would you be okay with that? Probably not. So why teach that to children?
Even if my son very kindly asks his brother to use something, it does not guarantee he will get it. It’s up to the child with the rights to the toy to decide if they are done playing and would like to pass the toy along.
In my adult example, if I was reading a book and another adult asked me for it, even very politely, because they wanted to read it now too… I would still likely reply that I was using it right now. A polite request does not grant possession rights.
Letting our children know that they do not need to hand over a toy simply because someone else wants it right now lets them know that their space and play is respected.
Similarly, telling our children that they need to wait until the other person is done teaches them patience and understanding, and does not reinforce feelings of entitlement.
I notice so often at community play centers that a child will walk up to another and take a toy right out of their hands. The helpless kid looks up with tears in their eyes at their parent, who says “It’s okay, you can share!” and ushers them off to find something else to distract them with.
Meanwhile, I’m the mom who politely requests that the toy be returned to my kid, saying “he was using it, but you can have it when he’s done!” I’ll advocate for my kids until they can assertively say this on their own.
I do not mean at all to say that we aren’t teaching sharing. Of course we are, but in certain situations. If they want to give up their toy, because they feel done playing with it, that’s fine. If the request is to share markers and one child has all of them, then yes, we will teach to actually share and both children can color. If there is an entire bin of toys in question, then we can pick which ones we would like to use and we can all play.
But for our family, sharing a toy is a choice, not an obligation.
How do you navigate sharing with your kids?