Why I TEACH My Sons to Share…

You may have seen the blog post floating around recently entitled “Why I Don’t Make My Son Share“. While we all know many bloggers intentionally write highly polarizing blog posts with attention-grabbing titles hoping that it will go viral, this particular one surfaced my newsfeed enough that I eventually read it. Then I even thought about it some as I saw various discussions/debates happening about sharing. I will admit it did get a rise out of me. I thought about my own children; my interactions with them, their interactions with each other, and their interactions with peers. In doing so I identified what part of the article I was reacting to…the word “make”. No, I don’t necessarily “make” my children share, but I sure do “teach” them how to share. For example:

Making a child share looks like:

Child A is playing with a toy Child B wants. Child A is told to “Be nice! Share!”. Child A ignores the statement and continues playing with toy. Child A is told “If you don’t share _______ will happen”. Fill in the blank with some sort of consequence. Sometimes this is a social one “you won’t have any friends”. Sometimes it is an action “then we are leaving”. Sometimes it is a punishment “then you will have a time-out”. Last resort the adult yanks the toy out of Child A’s hand and gives it to Child B, “I told you to SHARE!”.  Child A is (rightfuly so) upset. Crying. Angry. And certainly does not like the concept of sharing. Not one single bit!

Teaching a child to share looks like:

Child A is playing with a toy Child B wants. Adult first observes to see if children can work it out themselves; do not automatically assume any and all sharing attempts result in conflict. Even for very young children. In the instance children do work it out themselves there is a tendency for the adult to swoop in with a celebratory “good job sharing!”. However this can disrupt the organic flow of interactions, so perhaps reserve it for a later time? Or maybe don’t make mention of it at all? In the instance Child A and Child B are not able to work it out, adult offers support and guidance in problem-solving a solution. The solution will vary based on the situation. Maybe Child A decides he needs 8 more minutes and Child B is asked to wait. Maybe Child A and Child B trade a toy. Maybe adult offers to play with Child B. Maybe Child A and Child B can play with toy together. The goal is RESOLUTION that results in both children feeling socially competent and satisfied.

While sharing is often deemed a social-emotional skill, research shows us the ability to share is actually embedded in cognitive development. Sharing and turn-taking involves development of “Theory of Mind” (TOM). Theory of Mind is defined as “the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own” (Wikipedia, 2013). Much like any other developmental task, Theory of Mind develops over time thus sharing and turn-taking are EMERGING skills in young children. We cannot expect a two year old to have mastery in sharing anymore than we can expect them to masterfully engage in other complex cognitive task. “Theory of mind develops gradually, with intuitive social skills appearing in infancy and then reflective social cognition developing during the toddler and preschool years”. (The Development of Theory of Mind in Childhood, 2010.).

We can be respectful of this natural learning curve when it comes to sharing (which I think is the heart of the original article that provoked this blog post) while ALSO optimizing development by providing guidance along the way. The author states “I can understand the desire to give your children everything they want, we all have it. But it’s a good lesson for you both to learn that this isn’t always possible, and you shouldn’t step all over other people to get these things.”. Mmmm, but IF we are not placing a value on being mindful of others, then are we inadvertently teaching them just that. That they CAN have everything they want to the exclusion of others? The article concludes with “Let’s teach them how they can get things they want through diligence, patience and hard work.”. Yes, I agree! Wholeheartedly! This is a valuable lesson for children on BOTH ends of the equation.

For example in the scenario with Child A and Child B both wanting the same toy, if we recognize (and believe) that the desires of BOTH children are of equal importance, then can BOTH Child A and Child B learn the lesson they can get things they want through diligence, patience and hard work? This may or may not involve sharing and turn-taking? It also may or may not involve adult guidance to develop solutions that honor BOTH individual’s desires. Otherwise it seems the lesson conveyed is “you better make sure you have something first so you can claim dibs on it for all eternity”.

Honoring and recognizing children’s desires includes awareness of ALL children…not just our own. Not just the child who had something first. Sitting aloofly on the sideline, completely ignoring a child expressing they want something your child has, essentially models a complete lack of empathy and caring for others.

Furthermore when we treat children as capable and competent, they become capable and competent. When we treat children with respect, they become respectful. Personally, I believe my children are capable of sharing and aim to respectfully guide them in learning not just “how” to share, but what sharing truly is…the belief that others matter. 🙂

What are your thoughts on sharing? Do you have a sharing policy in your family? How is it implemented?


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6 Responses to “Why I TEACH My Sons to Share…”

  1. Kristina says:

    Keep in mind that the writer of the original post said in the second example that she would have stepped in if there hadn’t been other toys, including some like the one her son was playing with. I don’t think she had the idea that children should never share, but that they shouldn’t always be required or expected to. She was bemoaning the trend she saw towards expecting children to share, no matter the circumstance. And, it seems, as long as the sharee is their own child. When my five children were young, I noticed they sometimes liked to play longer the more a sibling wanted a toy. I would encourage the other child to find something else to play with until his/her brother or sister was done and would usually find that they had switched toys, with no fights, in just a few minutes. I also encouraged them to play together when that worked with the toy, and they learned they could build a bigger Duplo tower when they cooperated. They’re now all grown and I see no evidence that they don’t know how to share or that they expect things to be handed to them.

  2. Janine says:

    Hmm. I agreed with the original article for the most part. I think that it depends largely on whose property is in question. Public property should be shared. Being possessive of your own stuff is natural. I think that it would be OK if there was a time limit for hoarding daycare property, for instance. The same way you sign up to use a library computer (etc) and are given a set time slot.

    I didn’t really see the article as sending the message that children should just do whatever pleases them. To the contrary, the message seemed to be that children should learn to be patient and AREN’T entitled to whatever they want. To me, an adult swooping in and working things out – Say, allowing “8 more minutes” before the toy is passed along – encourages tattling as well as that entitled attitude.

  3. jenny says:

    Well said. It seems as though some of these newer parenting philosophies place very little emphasis on respecting others and their environment, and a little too much on letting the child do whatever pleases them.

  4. Katie says:

    Well said! Agreed!