When I had just one child, I naturally wanted her to share with others. I felt that was the expectation of those around me, and I guess I was raised with the view that sharing with others was a good thing. When the twins arrived, I soon discovered forcing one child to share is like constantly taking sides. It’s forcing one child to give up an object for another without any true reason other than “because I decided she deserves it more right now”. That other child may only even be interested in it because the first child wanted it. I realised that turn taking works so much better in terms of holding the boundary, following through, being consistent, as well as making the decision regarding a child’s use of a toy impersonal. This blog post explains why.
Why I Don’t Force Sharing
I don’t force sharing between my children. As mentioned above, forcing children to share makes you favour one child over another. Even if you regularly change which child has to share, it’s still giving a preference to one child in that sharing moment. My gut instinct tells me that it will increase sibling rivalry and cause a lot more stress to me in my day-to-day life. True sharing, like an apology, truly needs to come from the heart to allow the sharer to feel pleased with the outcome and the receiver to feel cared about.
Another point which made me realise sharing is not important at the toddler stage of life. Is it not important that my child also has enjoyment out of foods or belongings? If I’m always praising my child for sharing, or sacrificing her needs, will she lose out or feel bad if she really wants to eat the food or use the toy? Probably. She may start feeling guilty for choosing to have something for herself. She may feel naughty for enjoying something she’s interested in. She may feel she disappoints you unless she makes daily sacrifices to please you or others.
Do You Share On Demand?
Sometimes we can have expectations for a toddler to a higher standard than our own. In terms of sharing, it would be equivalent to you finishing a project you’re really proud of. You have to finish writing the final few paragraphs with your special pen. A co-worker comes up to your desk and asks for your pen. Do you immediately hand the pen over and be a ‘good sharer’? Or do you say, ‘yes sure you can, just give me 5 minutes to finish this paper. I’ve got a biro over here you can have while you wait, if you want’? I would prefer my kids to know how to be assertive over things they are using.
What Can We Do Instead?
Instead of forcing my children to share, I encourage them, and if needs be force them, to take turns. Children understand turns far more easily than following whether a parent decides they should share. Essentially, if a child takes a toy first, it is their turn until they have finished. If another child comes and takes the toy already claimed by a child, I say “can you give that back please, it’s child 1’s turn”. Once they are used to the concept of turns, they usually want to give it back themselves.
Another gentle parenting idea I use around sharing is to ask whether one child wants to give to another child. For example, if one of my children really wants a toy, I will ask the other child if they want to give it to that child. If they say no, I help with their emotions that the child still wants their turn even though they really want it right now. For the child who did not want to share, I also say that’s fine, it’s their choice.
When I Do Encourage Sharing and How
There are occasions when I need to encourage, or even force, my child to share. With 3 toddlers in the house it is common for our sippy cups to disappear. If only one cup is available, I have had to force sharing. This tends to involve words of “one more sip and then X needs the cup because she’s really thirsty too.” If they do not pass the cup over, then I say I will give it to them because they need a drink too. I force sharing of items such as drinks because it’s important everyone can stay hydrated. I will continue guiding them to share the drink until everybody has quenched their thirst.