It’s OK NOT to Share Section 3a: Sharing Toys

cover image

Remember how you raised your eyebrows and squirmed a bit when you heard the title, “It’s OK NOT to Share”?  (OK, maybe some of you didn’t even bat an eye.)

As adults, we know the value of being altruistic, selfless, and generous.  We want to instill that in our kids.  So we encourage them to share.

But what we find is that this encouragement ends up looking a lot more like the “sharing on demand” that Heather Shumaker describes in her book.

We ask them to give up what they have so we can check the “sharing” box.  We feel good about ourselves.  We feel good about our kids.

Our kids feel like they’ve just been robbed.

The concept of sharing is quite developmentally sophisticated.  And as Heather writes, “It comes in stages.”

“Young kids can be trained to give up a toy on command to please an adult, but experts on children’s moral development, like William Damon, say a notion of true, altruistic sharing doesn’t begin until elementary-school age.”

For preschoolers, Heather suggests that the more developmentally appropriate skills to focus on are impulse control (not grabbing from others) and delayed gratification (waiting until another’s turn is done).  Likewise, preschoolers are primed for building communication and social negotiation skills (asking for turns, asserting “I’m not done yet”, etc).

These are the skills where preschoolers are ready to work, but sometimes it makes for some messy moments.  It may be easier to step in, play the role of referee, ask who had what first, and set everything straight.  But for real moral development, kids don’t benefit from being told what to hand over to whom and when.  They grow from being supported as they negotiate, wait, and even have some rough patches.

In fact, according to Heather’s research, experts say that forcing kids to share actually slows the development of true generosity.

So how did we get it so wrong?

It’s a classic case of looking at childhood through adult lenses.  We see a child hoarding a toy as being selfish, and most often, that bothers us because we worry about how that makes US look as parents and caregivers.  We don’t want to be seen as bad parents who’ve raised bad kids.  But being motivated by that outside-in fear actually drives us to respond more poorly to the child’s real developmental needs.  Ironic.

At the same time, we’re both oversimplifying a very complex social notion (sharing) and underestimating the preschool child’s ability to take ownership and engage in child-directed turn taking (a process Heather explains further in the section).  How’s that for a paradox?

Heather has some great tips for coaching kids through the sticky social situation called sharing.  How to help by giving information rather than demands, recognizing when to physically step in to preserve appropriate boundaries, why it’s so important to honor a child’s desire for having a long turn, and how to do that without alienating every other parent and child in the same social space.

Jump in, read along, and share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!  We’ll discuss the topics you bring up in our next Google+ Hangout!  

(Did you catch the last one?  Find it here.)

read along sizedGet the Read Along Schedule and catch up on past posts!

*I’m excited to have Janet Lansbury joining us for our next G+ Hangout!  Read some of what Janet’s written about avoiding “sharing on demand” in these articles, share your thoughts and questions in the comments, and join us for the hangout!  (Also posted here once it’s complete!)

The S Word {Janet Lansbury}

These Toddlers are NOT Sharing {Janet Lansbury}

When Your 3 Year Old Grabs Toys {Janet Lansbury}


Hangout 1 with Heather

(Sorry about the blue hue — it was oh-so-early in the morning!)

Hangout 2 with Janet (coming soon!)



Filed under Child Development & DAP, Learning through Play and Experience, Positive Guidance and Social Skills, Uncategorized

4 Responses to It’s OK NOT to Share Section 3a: Sharing Toys

  1. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This was a great reminder as my 5 year old seems to have regressed in his sharing skills as of late.

  3. Pingback: Get Ready to Read Along! | Not Just Cute

  4. Pingback: It’s OK NOT to Share: The Wrap Up | Not Just Cute

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *