It always happens. That awkward moment during a play date, where my son is happily playing with his latest dinosaur, when another child wants to see (his) growling and ferocious T. Rex toy. The child’s mother looks at me expectantly to order my son to share. I shake my head at my friend’s sweet child, “I’m sorry honey, that’s his special toy. Would you like to play with one of these toys instead?”
I am that mom. I do not force my son to share.
Why I Don’t Force Sharing
This was not always my strategy. There was a time when he was forced to share beyond what a two year old was capable of or ready for. And then something happened, he regressed. He became possessive and unwilling to share his toys, even with his closest friends. This made me reevaluate my sharing strategy for my toddler.
Sharing Through A Toddler’s Eyes
I’ve asked myself, am I teaching him to be selfish? The toddler sharing experience is not the one we understand as adults; it’s ordering your child to share and he is left frustrated. He does not know why he was ordered to give up his toy or understand the joy it gave another.
Sharing during the terrible twos might not be so terrible. Children, and in particular, toddlers, have only began developing empathy at age 2.
The trouble during the early years is that toddlers may not always see the situation clearly and may not know what the other person wants. Research suggests that when the situation is clear, toddlers are “deeply generous and charitable.” Children are naturally kind, we just have to show them the skills in a way that works for the individual child.
Adults have a hard time sharing their own toys. So how can we expect toddlers to connect the dots that “sharing is caring.” Forcing my son to share did not elicit a lesson in sincerity and empathy, rather it took away his decision and turned into a power struggle.
There are times when he has to share his toys. Here are a few tricks I’ve implemented so far to help my son learn the process of sharing without forcing him:
Share Some Toys
He shares, just not special toys. If friends are coming over I tell him to hide away the toys that he has special attachments to. These usually mean the toys he sleeps with are off limitless for sharing. Our next conversation is what toys he is willing to share with friends. This changes the sharing framework from one of sacrifice to cooperation. And he is much more likely to share happily and cooperatively under the agreed terms.
It’s Not Selfish
He might be young but he has rights and deserves autonomy. I want to teach him to respect boundaries and choices. This goes for his things as well as others. I do not expect others to be forced to share with my son. He is not entitled to have someone else’s things, as a toddler or later as an adult.
Food Is Off Limits
I don’t share mine (with him or my husband) and I don’t expect him to share his. There is a reason we all have separate plates to eat our respective meals, it’s because they are our own. This policy continues in the school environment where often times there is a no share policy because of safety of others and allergies. Of course there is always the exception, the borrowed French fry by the pool.
Toddlers learn through mimicking behaviors they see. The best way to understand sharing is to experience it. I set the example of sharing. He might not be there yet, but I am setting the example for when he will be, and I know he will get there eventually.
It’s in the moments that I don’t force him to share, that he opens up, he smiles and generously shares his special T. Rex. He is starting to understand “sharing is caring” but it is a work in progress. I want nothing more to prepare my son to be happy and excel in this world. For us, that means I’ll never order him to share before he is emotionally ready. In parenting, the strategies are always evolving, so this is at least our strategy for now (a sibling may change the game completely).
So ease up on judging your kid (and yourself) so harshly for not sharing. And stop ordering them to share. You might be surprised in the results.
Now that you know I’m that mom, checkout Why I Don’t Need A lot of friends.