Why I Don’t Make My Children Share and You Shouldn’t Either

My husband got a phone call last week asking if him and I could substitute in our church’s nursery program this last Sunday. Of course he said yes, and we ended up having such a fun adventure! TEN, yes TEN little children between the ages of 18 months to about 30 months old all in one little room with just John and I. I think when their parents first dropped them off we had about 5 crying at one time between all of them!! I could see the fear in John’s face! But luckily for us the power that bubbles and marshmallows have over these children far out weighed their fears of being left alone in such a crazy situation with two adults they don’t know. It wasn’t long until we had them all settled down and happy. We were so proud!

After a quick little lesson, some songs, and yes more marshmallows (probably a little more then they would normally get, shh.) It was time to play with toys. Yes! That should be easy, just sit back and watch them play. Or maybe not…Turns out if one child picks up a toy, all the other children decide they want the same toy. And these kids are small but they are sneaky little things. I think these two boys were literally teaming up against this cute little girl to try and team steal the car she was playing with! I couldn’t believe some of their tactics. But she was all girl and the second they came near her she would clutch onto that toy car, look them right in the eyes, and yell as loud as she could “NO, MINE!” And oh did those boys back down quick!

Once church was over and all the parents came to pick up their children, that same little girl’s mom asked me how she was and if she had a hard time sharing. I guess the full time teachers had mentioned to her several times that she was having a hard time sharing her toys in class and this mom was really concerned about it. I was so surprised by this because I had thought so differently about what happened. The full time teachers in our nursery are so great and did nothing wrong, they just had a different viewpoint on this and were concerned. I think they viewed this scenario the same as so many other people would have. So I thought I would share my “parenting viewpoint” about this situation.


First off, think of your favorite thing you own. A cell phone, a purse, mine would be my kindle but it could be anything. Now imagine you are in the middle of using that item and some adult walks up to you and says it’s my turn and tries to rip that out of your hand. What would you do? You would fight to get it back. You would probably yell, “NO, MINE!” We as adults don’t like to share our things so why do we expect our children to share their things all the time?children, sharing, fighting, parenting

Whether a child is at home with siblings or in a group setting, when they are playing and they pick up a toy, even if they don’t technically own it, it becomes theirs. And not only that but it becomes their new favorite thing! So when another child comes along and decides they want it, and tries to rip it out of their hand they will probably start fighting. It’s human instinct to protect the things we love. But what is fair for the adult to do?  Before I had my third baby I worked in a child care center for about 10 years. I would see this situation happen so many times every single day. And for some strange reason, most adults seem to think they need to teach children how to share by taking the toy away from the child that had it and giving it to the child that wants it. They would all say “We need to share the toys.”

There are two problems if you do this. First, the child that had the toy loses some trust in the adult. They had something and now you just came along, took it away, and gave it to someone else. You have taught them that they can’t take ownership in their things and you have also taken away an downloadopportunity for them to be creative and use their imagination. Second, you have taught the other child that they don’t have to wait their turn. They can have whatever they want whenever they want it just by taking it from someone. That is not how life works. As adults, we have to wait for things we want. We don’t just get to take whatever we want. And responsible adults understand that not only do we have to wait for it but we have to work for what we want. We need to teach our children to be patient, and wait their turn.

So now that you see my point, how do you do this? It’s super easy! Just explain to the child that wants the toy that someone else is playing with it right now and when they are done, you can have a turn. You need to be patient (yes use that long word. Even if they don’t know exactly what it means, you are introducing it to them and they will catch on.) Then help them find something else that will entertain them while they wait. If you don’t they will probably just keep trying to take the one they want. It might take a little bit more work on your part but in the end, you will have two happy kids and they will both learn great skills they will need as an adult.

But I do understand that in some situations, we do have to make our kids share something they are using or take turns with something and that is fine. A good way to go about this is before anyone gets the item that has to be shared, explain to the children that they have to share it and they will only get to use it for a short amount of time. Then help them by telling them several times how much more time they have. ie 5 more minutes, 3 more minutes, 1 more minute, ten more seconds, then count out loud to ten. This will help prepare them to give it up and finish up whatever they were doing with it.  It can also help the other children who are waiting to see the end of their waiting time.

I hope if this is something you or your child have been struggling with, that this little tidbit of advice will help. And I hope I can bring a little more peace to all nurseries everywhere. And if not, just try bubbles and marshmallows. That will probably work too!!


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33 Replies to “Why I Don’t Make My Children Share and You Shouldn’t Either”

  1. There is a difference between “not sharing what you had first” and hoarding though. I teach my kids the “They had it first, find something else to play with” philosophy, but some kids want the toy they have and all the other toys. They want the toy in their hands and free reign of all other toys that might be played with by other children. That’s when sharing needs to be taught. Since you related it to an adult I will too. Imagine you are invited to your friends house to hang out. You get there and they are sitting in the middle of the room watching a movie on their iPad. They wont let you look at the screen, they wont engage in conversation with you and if you grab their remote control to turn on the TV while they are busy, they scream “No! Mine!” You wouldn’t be hanging around there very long now would you?

    1. So it seems you missed the point of her article, then. She is not saying we should never teach any form of sharing to our kids. She is talking about that very specific instance of parents forcibly taking something from one kid to “share” it with another.

      1. Then I think maybe the article is mislabeled. While I agree with the overall point, in my opinion, that one very specific instance you’re talking about is not “sharing” because it is one-way. BOTH kids in the situation need to be taught about sharing.
        I think kids should be taught to share – as in taking turns or playing together – particularly when it is not something that is explicitly theirs. As they grow older, they can be taught about how to EARN something that becomes “theirs” and they can set the terms about how or if they want to share it with others.

  2. How about the whole “that’s their car/lovey/blanket, etc. It would be nice for them to share, but it is theirs and they have the right to not share if they don’t want to.”? I’ve had parents gasp at me for that one. But the fact is, kids have feelings, if they don’t want to share they don’t have to, but if they don’t share then they’re not going to have as much fun and they aren’t going to be as liked by the other kids, which to me is a good lesson. If they tease with the item they’re not sharing, I do make them put it away, but I don’t force sharing and my kids so far have evolved into very good sharers because they know if they don’t feel like it I’m not going to stress it.

  3. We have this problem at my work all the time! ( I work at a fitness centers childcare.) We encourage them to play together, or take turns and then distract them with another toy. I think sharing is important, but i thibk playing together type sharing should be important.

  4. Why do we have to be so materialistic? It’s just stuff…people are more important than stuff. In my home “mine”is a bad word. We need stop being so concerned with material objects and love one another as Christ taught.

    1. When one is forced to “share” it does not teach what the proponents claim it teaches. Also, I have never met anyone who pushes that idea who (1) leaves keys in the ignition of their car, in case someone might want it,
      (2) Removes all locks from their home, so anyone who may wish to use their home may.
      (3). Punish their banking and other financial information, including passwords and debit/credit card numbers, so anyone who wants their money may have it…

      When one forces “sharing” it takes from those who earned the object. It also takes from the taker. The takers no longer have the desire to earn what it may be that is desired. The takers are rewarded for coveting.

      Do bishops share openly from the Bushop’s storehouse? No, even though, (or perhaps because,) those temporal, (material ,) items are the Lord’s, the must ensure that they are not given out to just anyone who claims to want them!

      While it is good to share in many cases, teaching a concept that those who covet are entitled to take, is not. A parent teaches sharing by example, not through force.

  5. I LOVE this so much!! We do the exact same thing in our home! And, I actually read from an amazing parenting psychologist that they have no sense of ownership if they are forced to share EVERYTHING! My kids all have a few things that they are absolutely not required to share… these are special things of theirs. But we also have many things that are shared toys. My boys (ages 6 and 3) seem to be the ones I have a hard time with the most. My younger one wants everything his older brother has. We tell him that he may play with it after his big brother is finished (he usually tries to snatch it right out of his hands). I don’t feel that it’s ok to take something in the middle of someone else’s time playing with it and hand it over to someone else… I think that’s where the entitlement issue we see so much of stems from… so many kids anymore think they are owed something and think they can get what they want when they want it. When someone else is finished, THEN it can be played with by the other child… OR, create a game that they can BOTH play with it together.

    I think this post is excellent!

  6. You took the thought right out of my brain! I am very blessed to have a group of women who all have children literally within one month of my son who is 20 months that live in the same apartment complex as my family. It has been very interesting to watch the little ones grow and see what seems to be their personalities and what seems to have been taught. Thankfully we don’t have a forced sharing group, but it is interesting to see when the children do share with each other and when they absolutely will not. There is one little boy whose mother has taken things he cares about away from him since he was very young. First his binki, then his ‘lovey’ or his blanket, and she has recently talked to me about how she feel’s it’s wrong that he needs white noise to go to sleep and is planning on taking that away from him as well. Because of this, he doesn’t like to share anything. Literally. If there are three water guns on the ground and my son goes from one, this other little boy will take all three and yell at my son. Now, his mother doesn’t let him go on for long, but it is very interesting to see how her parenting style has led to him not wanting to share. I think children need to be secure in their belief that what’s theirs is theirs and even if someone else is playing with it, they will get it back. As Daniel Tiger sings ‘You can take a turn, and then I’ll get it back!’ Thanks for the great post!

  7. I’ve served in the nursery well over ten years. I agree with Kara. Children are just small people and they have rights. We find another toy for a child who tries to take toys from someone else. What a blessing these children are to be around. I am continually amazed at the love and sacrifice of parents for their children. During lesson or snack time, I often remind them that this is Jesus’ church and these are His toys and He is sharing them with us.

  8. The problem I have with sharing is that parents use that word as a synonym for taking turns. They are two completely different ideas. The article is spot on with telling the children they’ll be taking turns and how to implement the idea. However, then the author goes back to using sharing and taking turns as synonyms. It’s confusing for children. You can’t share a toy unless it’s something like a play garage and each child has their own car. If only one child can use the toy at one time, it’s called taking turns. Now, marshmallows, those can be shared.

  9. Exactly so. If more raised their children this way, the entitlement society would go the way of the 8 track tape. Patience. Taking turns. Trust. Ownership. Great lessons.

  10. I liked learning your perspective very much. Great insight. Thanks! I would however, provide you with raisins or some mandarin oranges to provide as the treats with the bubbles if I were dropping my kid off. 😀

  11. I like where you are going with this, but see one big issue with your “Kindle” example and how that applies to nursery…or the playground. You actually own that Kindle. In nursery, or at a playground, no one owns anything. There is nothing worse that a kid that holds onto a popular toy or won’t get off the a swing while the line waits. That is the kid that needs to understand the word “share”. I could be wrong, but it sounds like the little girl in nursery was “hogging” that car and really needs to learn how to share. After all, it is not her toy car.

  12. I spent some time helping out in a toddler day care. Yes, the children wanted the same toy. A five minute timer was the best solution. When a second child wanted the coveted toy, I would set the five minute timer, telling them both that they would each have five minutes. Invariably, after 2 1/2 minutes, the first child with the toy would decide to give it to the waiting child. WONDERFUL! The first child learned to take turns, and the second child learned that waiting patiently gained the reward.

  13. This is the theory I came up with recently myself. My mother in law raised 4 boys on this theory and not 1 of them struggled with sharing.

  14. Although I agree with this article I think it’s important to point out that these nursery leaders weren’t following their manual. This comes directly from the manual: “Play: Many nursery-age children are not emotionally or socially ready to share toys and other playthings. Do not force them to share if they don’t want to.”

    1. I am a nursery leader, and that is what I was thinking. The manual tells you specifically NOT to make kids share. 🙂

  15. This article is great! I’m currently in nursery and it got me thinking how I do things. I think in a mix of letting the child keep what they had, taking turns and having them give the toy to another child. I think it’s important to teach children what life will be like as an adult and not just as a child. After all, You are an adult longer than you are a child. If you liked this post you will probably enjoy my blog. Specifically the post entitled “babies know how to kick you when you’re down.” Which is a funny post about babies perfect timing for needing you at the worst time. Or “The worst kind of hated.” Which is my experience with postpartum depression. Us parents (especially moms) need to sick together to get through life.


  16. Excellent article. I think the point that really struck a chord with me was about what you’re teaching the children doing the taking. How many teenagers and adults do you know who take whatever they want without any consideration for others? They learn this as children.

  17. I totally agree. Taking something from a child and giving it to another, just because the other child wants it is cruel and unfair to the first child. That is not what sharing is all about. Also, it would be nice to keep politics out of this discussion.

    1. Unfortunately, this can be directly related to politics because it is about the philosophy for life that is to be taught to children who will one day make the rules.

  18. I raised 6 children and have many many years of in-home childcare and teaching pre-school in child care centers. I totally agree with Kara. What I saw so many times went like this: A conflict over something would erupt and I would tell them both, ‘He has that right now, but when he is done you can be next to play with it. Johnny, when you are done, let Sally have the next turn with it, Ok?” Usually Sally would go off, get interested in something else and not even want the toy when Johnny got done with it. Alternately, Johnny would often relax his desperate grip on the toy and give it to Sally either immediately or within less than a minute. They just needed to know their right to use something would be supported and then they wouldn’t have to hang on to things.. Also, with a little bit older kids with things like swings, we often timed them for turns, but my preference was to tell them they could swing as long as they wanted to, but remind them from time to time that so and so was waiting, and really wanted a turn. Then they would make the choice to get off out of their own desire to give the other child a chance. I think that develops more of what we want kids to learn with sharing. When the adults controlled the turns kids tended to swing as long as they could, even past when they might have been done otherwise.

  19. I agree with the sharing part. However, marshmallows are very dangerous for young children. They pose a choking hazard and because they form a sticky mess, it’s hard to expel. Google it and you’ll see. Popcorn is also very dangerous in the nursery. Please stick to graham crackers and goldfish.

    1. I believe the article isn’t referring to ACTUAL marshmallows. It read, “And I hope I can bring a little more peace to all nurseries everywhere. And if not, just try bubbles and marshmallows.” I think that was talking about a “game” of sorts where the children puff out their cheeks like they have bubbles or marshmallows in their mouths. It makes it so the kids can’t talk or yell without deflating their cheeks. Of course, I could be completely wrong about the context of the words, and I totally agree that marshmallows (the treat) are not the best choice for nursery children.

  20. I agree. I didn’t make my boys share everything with my day care kids. Just the Nintendo, while my boys & school aged kids got their homework done first. This let the younger ones get tired of it, then the older ones got it after homework. They don’t have problems sharing with their friends every weekend, who come over for lan parties, after they became teens, but their super expensive stuff, or personal Karate stuff, I don’t make them share it. I don’t share my designer hand bags, but I’ve shared my sewing skills by making quilts for people, just not my expensive machine.

  21. Last week I took my sweet 22-month-old to the playground near our house. An older girl said she wanted to play with my daughter, but really she just wanted to play with the new Easter bucket and shovel my daughter was carrying. Soon a girl older than the older girl claimed possession of it, occasionally and begrudgingly sharing with the younger one and her friends and bickering with them over it. I watched for an hour while my daughter ran around amusing herself with other things, sometimes patiently waiting for a turn with the bucket but never getting one. I struggled with how to respond. I felt like I would be such a meanie if I marched up to the kids and said, “Excuse me, this is MY daughter’s bucket, and you can’t play with it, even though she’s on the slide right now.” But I brought the bucket to the park so my daughter COULD play with it if she wanted to, and she never got to. I left feeling annoyed with myself. Why should I side with strangers’ kids at the expense of my own?

    I appreciate your article. After reading it, I’ve decided that you’re right. It’s okay for me to say, “Actually, this is Eliza’s bucket, and I brought it for her to play with, and she will have a hard time playing with it if bigger kids are using it, so I’m going to keep it right here until she wants it, okay?”

    Of course, I will find that much harder to do if the kids’ moms are there. But I still think I should stand up for my daughter, and I’m going to try to do it politely as possible.

    Thanks for your perspective.

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