Sharing: Why I'm Not Forcing My Kids To Do It

Every parent will understand the issues around sharing. We've all been at playgroups or play dates when suddenly screaming erupts amongst the small people and it turns out your kid is refusing to share the one toy everyone wants to play with. I, like many of you I'm sure, jump to attention. We immediately deploy the tried and tested techniques for getting a small child, unaware of any of the social niceties required to make the 'right' decision, to agree to share something he really, reallywants to play him/herself. 

So, we give them the chance to share explaining that it's the kind and right thing to do. Then we suggest time limits, "Well, you can play with it for two minutes and then it's little Johnny's turn". That doesn't always work either so eventually you launch into the threats because, frankly, you don't want everyone looking at you while you convince your kid not to act like a dick for much longer. "If you don't share that toy, I'm going to cancel all TV for ever and you'll never see Hey Duggee again." Or something like that.

Essentially, the end result is mostly the same. Kid doesn't understand. Kid gets mad. Toy is removed entirely to avoid any further conflict. Everyone cries. Learning to share is rough.

So, here's where I start to get a bit controversial. Is sharing really that reasonable? Are we asking way more from our kids than we would actually be willing to do ourselves? Is it a concept that requires far more emotional and intellectual growth than we can expect from any regular toddler/young child? I started to think how it would feel if my mates walked in the house and just helped themselves to anything they wanted to play with, wear, use and I realised that I'd be kind of pissed off about it. Sharing is actually a pretty advanced social skill; are we expecting kids to share on an unreasonable level?

Traditional sharing seems to require kids to give up the toy (or whatever) the moment someone else demands. They don't have the skills to say, "I'm currently enjoying this toy, but I'll happily give you a turn in 5 minutes." If we were watching the TV and someone walked in and just changed the channel without asking, we'd be pissed, right? As grown ups we are able to negotiate our wants and needs in a way that children aren't. Sharing for us is an entirely different concept to the sharing we expect our kids to do and trust me, we wouldn't like it either.

Having said all that, it's very difficult to implement a no-sharing policy without either coming across as a bit of a dick to other parents or spending every playdate or playgroup listening to the sound of kids fighting. On a personal level, I've tried implementing the following tactics. It's not foolproof but it seems to be working (a bit!)

  1. Never tell them they have to give a toy they were playing with to another child without reason or negotiation below.

  2. Start with, "This little boy/girl also wants to play. You can have it for another (insert time limit here) and then it's his/her turn, ok?"

  3. Explain this to the other child as well. "She's playing with it at the moment, but you can play with it in (insert time limit here).

  4. Warn my kid when there's one minute left and remind her she's giving it up soon.

  5. At the end of the time limit, ask her to give the toy over. If she doesn't, I take it and hand it over explaining that it's not her turn anymore.

  6. Before any playdates at home, I remind them that any toys or things that they absolutely do not want to share have to be put away, out of the reach/sight of all the kids.