One dad recently shared a story about what happened to him at a children’s park. He was there with his children when another parent walked up to him and said his children were refusing to share their toys. He told that parent that he wouldn’t make his children share if they didn’t want to. This incident drew mixed reactions with some parents saying forcing children to share teaches them to share and others insisting their children did not have to share. So should you make your children share? Here are some expert views on the matter.
Should you force your child to share? The short answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.
Children aren’t there developmentally
Developmentally, children are not at a place where they understand sharing and the complexities around it. For most children, these concepts are not grasped until they get to about 7 years old. Your toddler or preschooler just doesn’t get it and it’s normal that they’re not there yet. Sharing is a skill that develops as their intellect develops. Your best bet is to model generosity so that they are accustomed to seeing it.
Respect the child’s autonomy and rights
Children are fully autonomous people with their own voice and rights, their own thoughts and feelings. They are not simply automatons that mindlessly obey you. You want to encourage them to make good choices, not force them. Respecting your child’s choices and encouraging them to courageously say no without fear is one of those skills that will keep them safe and will be beneficial to them even as adults. Part of respecting their autonomy is assuming they have a reason. Ask them. Maybe it’s a special toy, maybe they want to play with it now but will share later or maybe they know that little Johnny just wants to stomp on it or give it to their dog.
Forcing them is not effective
Usually, the wanter throws a tantrum and cries then the owner is forced by the nearest adult to give up their property or toy. All this does is reward bad behaviour in the wanter while fanning negative feelings related to sharing in the owner. Research shows that allowing the child to choose when to share by giving a turn works better to build generosity. It also allows the wanters to learn patience while discouraging entitlement to other people’s belongings. In fact, it may be one way to reach consent and how just because you want something doesn’t mean you get to have it if you cry. It belongs to them so they make the rules.
They say with children it helps to keep in mind that you’re not raising a child, you’re raising an adult. You’re giving them the skills they’ll need to navigate the world. In the real world, you can’t just take people’s stuff because you want it. You have to respect the fact that it’s their property and up to them whether or not they share it with you. That’s an important lesson.
How to teach children the value of sharing
Here are some things to try instead:
- Model generosity, they’ll learn over time
- Teach your child how to speak up and work things out with other children without an adult always jumping in to enforce things
- Teach your child how to take a turn, how to wait, and how to play with others
- Teach them how to emotionally regulate and how crying and throwing tantrums is not the solution.
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