This post originally appeared on CanadianLiving.com in 2013.
“Can you share your toy?” “Can you please take turns?” How often have you heard these phrases when your children are playing with other kids?
I was at the park the other day when my six-year-old son Daniel brought one of his toys from home to play with – a stuffy superhero that I had just bought for him. He had shared it with another boy but then wanted it back.
Should my son give the boy a longer turn with his toy? Or should he take the toy back, saying it belongs to him? While one parent may say, “Now share your toy with the little boy,” I would allow my son to take his toy back when he wanted it back.
When is it okay not to share? Here are 5 reasons why your kids don’t always have to share.
5 Reasons Why I Don’t Force My Kids to Share
1. Young kids aren’t wired to understand sharing
We want our children to be polite, caring and kind especially around other kids. But little ones don’t quite understand the concept of sharing at a young age. When they are playing with a toy, they are all-consumed so when you take a toy away suddenly, that toddler is likely not going to be happy about it!
Kids under the age of three feel a strong sense of ownership when it comes to objects; they’re not developed enough to understand empathy. But don’t fret – when kids are three and four, they become aware that sharing is the right thing to do while 7 and 8 year olds will hand over to share without issue.
2. Some things are just too special to share
“I don’t like to share my Lego toys because they are really special to me and all of them were bought by my mom. They took a long time to put together,” my 8-year-old son Anthony tells me. “But I don’t mind sharing my beach toys if I’m not using them.”
Try prying a teddy bear or a special toy from your child’s arms to share with another child – you’re just asking for a meltdown. One tip is to put away meaningful items before a play date.
“If there is something a child doesn’t want to share, that is fine – but you will save a lot of drama by putting it on Mom’s bed or in the closet for the time the other child is there,” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, MD of www.AskDoctorG.com, a Family Physician and mom of four who provides practical, straight-forward advice with a twist of humor on her website
3. Forcing kids to share isn’t cool
I don’t force my children to share their belongings because I want them to have ownership and responsibility for their belongings. If I’ve gone out somewhere and bring my tablet, laptop or phone with me, does that mean I should share it with another person? Of course not so we shouldn’t expect our children to easily hand over something valuable to another child either.
But I will encourage them and reinforce positive things about kindness in sharing with others – because it’s a nice thing to do, how fun it will be to play with the toy together, etc. You want your kids to share and play nicely with others because they want to, not because they are being forced or shamed to.
4. Setting boundaries with siblings is important
“In our house the rule is – if you love it enough to sleep with it you don’t have to share it the next day,” says Dr. Gilboa. If your tween or teen has bought something with their own money, they don’t have to share it with their siblings she says.
“If you got it as a gift you should get some time to enjoy it before sharing, but whether or not it is eventually communal property is up to the family,” says Dr. Gilboa. “We have given our older guys each a cubby – none of the other kids may take anything from there.”
5. Not everything should be shared
Food and snacks shouldn’t be shared and can be especially dangerous if other children have an allergy. At my sons’ school, students are not allowed to share food because of this simple reason.
Also when a child brings a bicycle or scooter to the park, it isn’t safe for other children to ride, especially without a proper helmet. Not to mention the last thing you’d want is to share a case of lice!
What are your thoughts?