On Forcing Children to Share (and Socialism)

Recently I saw 2 children who both wanted to play with the same toy at the same time. One child was trying desperately to wrestle the toy away from the other, while shouting, “Share! SHARE!”

To the child urging “SHARE!”, sharing meant “you should give me what I want.” Sharing was seen as something you ought to do for me, not something that is voluntary.

It reminded me of the metamorphosis in my stance on forcing children to share.

I started out my parenting journey over 17 years ago following the popular idea that since sharing is good, we should strongly encourage and even force children to share with others. I mean, if it’s a good thing to do, then our children should do it, right? And if our children don’t especially want to, well then, we just have to make them, right?

Like writing thank you notes and taking antibiotics.

Then I started noticing that forcing children to share only made them hand over the object grudgingly, but when they came up with the idea of sharing a toy on their own, they seemed to take joy in the act.

It was about that time that I read about this very idea in one of the many parenting books I owned. The idea is that as humans, sharing can give us great joy if it is voluntary. Forced sharing, however, can cause bitterness and squirreling away secret stores of goods that we don’t want others to know we have.

I don’t exactly pay my taxes with glee. I hand it over because it is the law. I grumble over what I think is irresponsible usage of my payment. I disagree with the programs funded. I resent giving my hard earned money to folks who did not earn it.

On the other hand, I joyfully and with regularity give my offering at church and send gifts to the girl we sponsor in Africa.

What is the difference? One is forced upon me. The other is voluntary.

I no longer force my children to share their toys or candy. We regularly talk and read about how Christians ought to be kind and generous, and I praise them whenever I see that they do those things.

Occasionally they receive a toy that is intended to be a group gift for everyone to use, like our Wii or a swing set or doll house. In that case, sharing is mandatory.

But if they get a new toy or someone gives them candy, I allow them to enjoy it without imposing any guilt about how long they play with it or whether anyone else got any. We have talked often enough about boasting that they know it would be rude to gloat, so that would be extinguished, but I do not force them to share.

More often than not they see that playing is more fun when it is done with others, and they voluntarily offer to share the toy. The joy they get in coming to that conclusion themselves can not be matched with forced sharing.

Forced sharing creates bitterness. Voluntary sharing creates joy.

Do you agree or disagree? How do you handle teaching children to share?

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Comments

  1. I don’t believe in forcing children to share either. I wouldn’t want someone to force me to share like Olivia the pig points out I would not be happy if I was forced to share my car with my neighbors.

  2. Did you see my children??? Definitely sounds like them. I have to admit this is one area that I “forced” on the girls but lately I’ve really been thinking more and more about forcing them to share. I’m glad you wrote this post!! Thank you!

  3. Interesting perspective, I never thought of it that way before. We pay our children “commissions” (or payment earned for work completed) rather than allowance because we want them to learn early, the value of good work ethic. I had not considered this issue of forced sharing vs. Voluntary… I definitely want to instill in my children a desire to help others, but the real moral lesson does not come with the actual act of sharing. Rather, it is the attitude that precedes that act that makes all the difference.

  4. We do this as well. I find that honoring ‘ownership’ and praising generosity go a long way in establishing healthy boundaries with ‘stuff’. When the situation gets heated, I ask my kids if they are treating the other person the way they would like to be treated. Just seems to be more fruitful than the old way of forcing them to share.

  5. I agree completely. I don’t see how we can make cheerful givers of our kids when the giving is involuntary. They each have their own things, and that’s the way it is. The older kids are very good about sharing, and the younger ones…well, they’ll learn.

    One rule I have, though, is that if someone catches a sibling with his things and takes exception to that, he is not allowed to take it back by brute force. (“You are NOT the police!”) We’ve had far too many fights start that way, and besides, sometimes the “culprit” is 18 months old. Now they’re required to come and ask me to settle it if words won’t solve the issue. I always settle it by giving the owner back his things. Then I ask the owner if he thinks sharing would be better. Typically, the answer is ‘no’, but the owner will often go help the culprit find something else to do, or even share, once he gets over it.

    I don’t believe in the government handing people’s things and money over to other people just because they’re whining for it and have some sense of entitlement due to being weaker, or cuter, or less fortunate, or more deserving, or whatever. Why on earth would I raise my kids to behave as though they were entitled to their siblings’ things for the same reasons?

  6. I agree. It also helps if people understand where kids are developmentally. Children don’t begin to understand the concept of sharing until about the 3 age of 3. That doesn’t mean they wake up on their 3rd birthday knowing how to share. We all know adults who don’t share very well either. I do agree in encouraging kids to share. You are right, if a child, or adult for that matter, offers to share on their own terms, then they are happy to do so. If it’s forced, they aren’t so happy about it. I get frustrated with people who punish children for not sharing especially if they are not there developmentally to understand. Great comments too.

  7. I totally agree. Just another one of those things that we start out doing as parents just because that is what was told to us. So happy to be different. :)

  8. I’ve never forced sharing. My mom did it with my sister and I and there was always resentment. Other people don’t necessarily value your possessions the way you value them. My sister definitely didn’t. Unfortunately, with baby #4, the older 3 kids gave her everything she asked for because they didn’t want to upset her. Now I have a different problem! Lol ;) But they respect each others property, for the most part. They are still kids, after all ;)

  9. I don’t force our children to share, but when a sibling asks them to share and they refuse, I remind them that there will be a time soon when the shoe is on the other foot. “I hope your sister doesn’t think about this the next time YOU ask HER to share…” It works a lot of the time. Another way I helped them learn to share was only buying one of something instead of 2 when they were young. Ie, when they asked for an icee or a cookie at walmart, I bought one and they shared it. Because I did this for as long as they could remember, it was what they expected and they never grumbled about it. People were amazed my 4 yo and 1 yo could share so nicely. I think it helps to start early. It also helps that my second born is naturally more generous ;).

  10. I actually had never thought of it from this perspective….but you’re SO RIGHT! Thank you for sharing this. :-) I’ll start taking this stance on things – I think it will make life much easier as well. lol

  11. I do ask my children to share when they are little because there is a certain time when all children are very much in the “It’s MINE” phase (around 2-3 years old). After about 5 or 7 (depending on the child), I do not get involved as much–unless it is a group gift. I love seeing them sharing on their own and even offering Mommy or Daddy candy at Easter, etc. They don’t always share, and after 5 or 7, I will either not say anything; explain to the other child about ownership; ask what they think Jesus would like them to do; or I will mention the “what if the shoe was on the other foot” if I think it is needed. I have seen a positive effect, such as them offering other children goodies (on their own) when we’re out, and taking turns on toys at the park, etc. However, they also are balanced in that they don’t always give up the swing, especially if they just sat on it. LOL

  12. Jennifer says:

    Like some others have said – I’ve never thought about it from this perspective. I agree completely and will be discussing this with my husband as soon as he gets home from work today. Thank you for the great article ~ I love your site!!!

  13. Mama Jenn says:

    That is a good point. Sharing willingly is much LESS of a hassle from little ones than forced sharing. If I may ask, do you recall what books you read that encouraged this concept? I’m trying to instill in my kids to joyfully put others before themselves, but sharing is an area that they rarely do so with joy.

  14. I don’t have kids yet, so I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this situation. After your post, though, I am realizing that you are SO right! And from reading the Bible, I tend to think God approves of your decision wholeheartedly. =)

  15. The Bible has many verses on sharing, one of which says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16.

    With that in mind, I want our children to share voluntarily, but I know they won’t always do that. Sometimes we make them share and other times we leave it up to them – trying to constantly point them back to the Word of the Lord. :)

    I find that because I share often with them (i.e. they want the really yummy food I’m eating, so I’ll share it with them), they are more likely to share with others. I also remind them, “How would you feel if…?” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    If these measures don’t work (and there are many times they don’t), then I may set a timer so they all can have turns. Usually after the first or second time the timer goes off, no one cares so much about the thing anymore. Go figure.

    If push comes to shove, and they are throwing a fit about this “thing”, they will get punished accordingly. They are showing that they love this “thing” more than God and more than their siblings/friends.

    • Mishawnda says:

      I completely agree with you!! We have to teach our children according to the Word of God, which constantly encourages us to share and to put others before ourselves. My husband and I feel its important that our children experience grace by practicing giving and receiving . They also learn by our example. They have to observe us as we give freely and share with them and with others without grumbling or passing judgement.

      As Christians, we are called to extend to others the same grace that we ourselves have received through Christ Jesus. None of us “deserve” or can “earn” the inheritance that we have in Him.

      In my humble opinion, I don’t agree that “forcing” children to share somehow illustrates or encourages a “socialist” ideaology. On the contrary, when we use the Word of God as we “strongly encourage” our children to share, we are actually teaching/discipling our children in the ideaology of grace and humility, which is in Christ.

    • I do the timer thing too, especially since we have so many group toys. It works wonders!

  16. When someone (say at the park) wants something my daughter has brought and starts whining “share” or “she’s not sharing with me” I get a bit frustrated. First we brought the toys (and a ton of extra). Second my daughter is using the toy. I tend to say “She is using it. When she is done you can have a turn”.
    Sharing means when I’m done you get a turn. Not you want it you get. This way you can throw in being patience too (whether my child or another).

  17. We have done it this way for years now and I see my children sharing pretty willingly most always. They actually try to win candy prizes at choir so they can give it away to their siblings!!
    I really believe it makes a difference when they see how happy it makes someone when you give them a gift from the heart. Sharing becomes so much fun that they want to do it!!

  18. I agree. My huband thinks the older kids should share everything I disagree. I am so excited this summer that my older toll will finally be getting their own rooms as my oldest will be moving out. I thinkit is a joy when the children share on their own. @ the previous poster I agree that it fepends pn the age of the child as well great post.

  19. Excellent! I’m so glad you brought these points up. Biblical charity is different than socialism and we need to raise our kids accordingly :-)

  20. Hmmm, This one makes a person stop and think. I do force some sharing, most toys are group toys, I do allow special toys to not be shared, but they have to be kept separate from the group toys so that fights don’t start, if you don’t separate your special item then I won’t won’t separate the player from the item either. Some toys belong to mom and dad and if the children fight over turns or custody of item, then they both lose it, after all it does not belong to them to start with.
    We also have group clothes and personal clothes, this is because my kids wear uniforms to school and both where the same size! Once an item is clearly marked as personal and not up for sharing I will make the offending child change clothes, even if the offended sibling has not yet noticed.
    Babies are another matter altogether. If the baby has the item then the baby owns the item until you can find a way to get the baby to voluntarily let go(unless it is dangerous like batteries, or the baby has popped it into her mouth).
    We demonstrate this with the kids as well when my husband had to batter with the baby to get his game boy stand back, LOL.
    Authority has to be seen as fair, and personal items have to be respected, after all if a cop sees someone stealing do we not expect to cop to stop the theft?

  21. Completely agree! But this understanding has been slow in coming. Mostly when I found myself saying, “No you cannot have Mommy’s…” (fill in the blank – book, mp3 player, etc.) Our 4 girls have some things in common (like Playmobil toys) and some things separate (favorite baby doll) and that seems to work.

  22. I feel the same way you do. I try to let them know sharing is good but let them decide. My 14 year old does this well but my 7 year old son still has issues. When he does share, you can tell he feels good about it but there are times when he just doesn’t want to share. I don’t force him but later we talk about it. And when he doesn’t share with his siblings, I take the sibling aside and talk about sharing and show them why it is important to share and what it feels like not to be shared with.

  23. I hadn’t thought about this, but you’re right. If it’s forced, it’s not sharing. I’ll be changing how I deal with my children a little since I’ve forced “sharing” sometimes but not too often.

  24. Great post! We encourage our children to share, but do not force. Do unto others… Matthew 22:36-38 sometimes when we see them choosing not to share we will remind them of this and ask if they are treating others the way they want to be treated….but we let them make the choice to share, otherwise it is not sharing it is stealing from them.

  25. I found in my many years of working with kids if you have a coveted item and you require one child to share it they will steal it back soon as they can. However if you say they can have it for 5 more min then to please share it with the other child you don’t need to watch the clock or the children the item will be lovingly shared in less than the prescribed time.

  26. Robert says:

    Forcing children to share is only asking for psychological problems with a child in the future…

  27. We have a 3 year old, 2 year old, and 5 month old. In our house we keep it pretty simple. We have sharing toys (blocks, balls, etc) and toys we don’t expect the kids to share (special stuffed animals, princess toys, etc.)

    I usually catch a lot of flak for this, but most of our non-sharing toys tend to be gender specific. I don’t expect my daughter to share her purses or dolls, and I don’t expect my son to share his tools or cars. Most of the time they choose to, because it’s more fun to play with a partner, but they aren’t required to.

    Having things that are theirs and theirs alone is an important element for children to feel secure. I know how I’d feel if someone came along and tried to force me to share my laptop or my jewelry. It wouldn’t be pretty.

  28. one of my pet peeves with kids these days, is that when another child wants something they demand it saying that you are supposed to share. But sharing doesn’t mean that you automatically get the item you want. Usually we just ask out kids to please give it to the next person when they are done and that works.

  29. I pretty much think children mimic their parents, and I am sure your children see you as a loving and giving person, because that’s how I see you , just from reading your blog in the short time that I have. I don’t think any giving that is forced is good. I think it creates ill will. I definitely agree with you about being taxed. I think the money is not carefully spent. People in Congress are reaping the fruits of our labor. Any one of them probably makes way more than we do. That sucks!!

  30. This is what we do. I do think it is important to teach our children to be generous and to think of others but I also think it’s important to teach them to be good stewards of the things that God has provided for them. We encourage sharing but we also respect the “owner” of the item’s decision to not share. Of course, if the item is a general family item then we do force sharing. My husband and I also don’t share everything with everyone who asks. If we cannot easily replace the item (anything over $100) then we don’t loan it out. So when a friend asked to used my Kitchen Aid mixer I said she could use it with me at my house but I can’t loan it out. We we loaned some audio books to a family and they got food and scratches on them so we decided that we won’t loan things to this family any longer. I don’t think it makes a person selfish when you teach them that they are responsible for the things God has given them and they need to be good stewards of those things. By the way, my children are older (18,16,14,12,10) and seem to be pretty generous with the sharing. My 3 year old, however, is a different story…still working on it.

  31. Whoa!!!

    “respecting ownership” and “not ENFORCING sharing” is such.a.new.concept to me!!

    Am really glad I read this.. just in time too. My twins are just 8 months.. Thanks for this post!

  32. This is such a great post. I have a 2 year old and a three year old so toys get stolen frequently. Someone recommended I read this via Facebook. Love it!

  33. I don’t have any kids though sometimes it sure feels like it! I worked in a daycare, at summer camp, baby-sitting, as a teacher, and probably more! I sometimes have had the kids share, but after they are done with it. Usually I’ll say that they can have a turn but in 2 minutes it’s the other kids turn (depending on age and if the wanter can ask nicely). Or if it’s a ball I ask if we can play together and maybe play catch or take turns doing something that has a specific end (rolling the ball down the slide or putting a shape into the sorter or sitting on my lap for the book they pick then it’s someone elses turn). This works even with under 3 year olds with patience and such, but of course it in no way comes naturally to them and we are using the school’s toys and books. They don’t have to share things they brought from home. I’ll sit with them for the beginning or all of the time depending on age and how well they get the system!

    However, I do enjoy your post and agree that if it’s their toy specifically, which I don’t see a lot of with baby-sitting since the kids are younger and so close in age and often share interests or don’t and therefore don’t want to play with the other kids toy anyway, then they shouldn’t be forced to share it. So I guess I’ve fallen in between the forced sharing and the encouraged sharing.

    I’ve certainly seen parents go into battle with their older (than their sibling but still right around 4) children over sharing the snack the preschoolers were having when the toddler had already finished their snack but was begging for more or crying or something. If the child does it willingly, go for it, but if they don’t want to, they shouldn’t have to. Then the toddler would be getting more than their fair share while the older kid was forced to eat less than his share.

    Also, wow, I ramble a lot… sorry… :)

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