It’s Okay Not to Share

Written by Mandy on September 4th, 2015

Gentle Discipline, Natural Learning, Playtime

NPN RTD featureThis post is written as part of the Round Table Discussions with Natural Parent Network volunteers. In an effort to discuss, support, and promote a kinder, more gentle world, we are taking an in depth view of various books. Our current book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Dr. Laura Markham, author of  Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. We hope you will join us with an open mind and a desire for change and growth.

Photo by speedye (Flckr)We have all heard the parent who suddenly tells their child to “share.” You may have even been that parent, either in a group setting where there was pressure from other parents or relatives or perhaps at home when you just wanted a little peace. “Why can’t the kids just share? Is it really too much to ask?”

This need to make children share comes two-fold. We want our children to think of others and be empathetic. When they grow up, we hope that they will be generous and responsive to others. It is a noble effort, this parenting gig, and one we are trying to get right. On the flip side, the need for children to share often comes from fear: fear that our children may become selfish, fear that someone else will judge us for not forcing our children to share, fear that the other child will melt-down, having not received a turn in a timely fashion. Fear can rule us.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can bravely step away from the fear behind forced sharing and take a closer look from our child’s point of view. After all, how would you feel if someone suddenly demanded that you hand over your book, cell phone, car, or house to someone else who decided they wanted it? It wouldn’t go over well.

While we want our children to be generous and giving, that doesn’t happen by forcing sharing. Forced sharing actually has a lot going against it:

  • Forced sharing teaches a false generosity. When we force children to hand over an item, they are not doing it because they are being generous. Giving and empathy do not come in to play. We are not helping them to develop empathy.
  • Instead, by forcing sharing we are reinforcing selfishness and possessiveness. Whenever someone wants something, they can demand to have it. We may even be encouraging a child to whine or yell in order to be given an item on our demand. This focus on who holds an item breeds a possessiveness regarding objects.
  • This takes away from the overall play. A child worried about how long they will have a toy isn’t lost in the joys of play and imagination.They are figuring out how the will get the toy back.
  • At the same time, the child isn’t learning how to self-advocate, which can later lead to self-worth issues and future bullying.
  • If times with an item are controlled by an outside source, namely a parent or other caregiver, than our children don’t have the opportunity to practice self-regulation.

Not every child is ready to share on their own. The fact is young children aren’t developmentally ready to do so. We can help them develop the traits we desire for them: generosity, empathy, caring, and even impulse control, delayed gratification, and conflict resolution. Remember, peace isn’t a lack of conflict but a peaceful resolution to conflict.

You can help children learn more about sharing by helping them converse about the situation:

  • Use active listening to give everyone a chance to be heard. “John is playing with the toy right now. Sally would really like a chance to play when you are finished.”
  • Point out other points of view and develop empathy. “You would really like to play with the truck. It does look like fun. It looks like Suzy is having fun a lot of fun with the truck right now.” Or, on the other side, “You are having so much fun with that truck! Jack would like to have a turn with the truck, too. Can you let him know when you are finished so he can have fun, too?
  • Help children advocate for themselves. “Sam is playing with the doll right now.”
  • Talk about waiting and help with alternatives, if needed. “You really wanted to play with the doll but Sam is playing with it right now. Would you like to play with the trains while you wait?”
  • If there is conflict, help mediate without inserting yourself into the equation. “I see two children who would like to play with the trains. Is there some way we can work this out?”
  • Be there through the feelings. Sometimes little people have big feelings and they just need to come out. Be there for them during that time. Expressing emotion is a good thing. Help them learn appropriate ways to express emotion. You can empathize when a child is disappointed, helping them to learn empathy, delayed gratification, and self-control.

Sometimes an item is not a community item, just like your car or cell phone. It is okay not to share. In those instances, help your child express herself. “This is Jill’s special toy. She doesn’t want to share it.”

Interested in reading more about the concepts in the sixth chapter of Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings? Check out these posts by Natural Parent Network volunteers:

The Deeper Lessons We Learn From Sharing When Kat @ MomeeeZen had her first baby, she had a lot of rethinking to do when it came to sharing. Read her thoughts on sharing and the lessons she hopes her kids will learn, that have little to actually do with sharing.

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Empathy and Generosity At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy focuses on authentic ways to help you child develop empathy and generosity.


About The Author: Mandy

My NPN Posts

Mandy O'Brien is an unschooling mom of five. She's an avid reader and self-proclaimed research fanatic. An active advocate of human rights, Mandy works to provide community programs through volunteer work. She is a co-author of the book Homemade Cleaners, where simple living and green cleaning meet science. She shares a glimpse into her life at Living Peacefully with Children, where she writes about various natural parenting subjects and is working to help parents identify with and normalize attachment parenting through Attachment Parents Get Real.

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