5 reasons why I don't force my kids to share

Why it's ok not to share some things when you're a kid.

By Maria Lianos-Carbone

5 reasons why I don't force my kids to share
"Can you share your toy?" "Can you please take turns?" How often have you heard these phrases when your children are playing with other kids?

We were at the park the other day and my six-year-old son, Daniel, had brought one of his toys from home to play with – a stuffy superhero that I had just bought for him. He had shared the toy with another boy who was at the park, but then wanted it back.

Should my son have given the boy a longer turn with his toy? Or should he have taken the toy back, stating that it belonged to him? While one parent may say, "Now share your toy with the little boy," I allow my son to take his toys back when he wants to. Here are five reasons why your kids don't always have to share.

1. Young kids aren't wired to understand sharing
We want our children to be polite, caring and kind, especially around other kids. But, at a young age, little ones don't quite understand the concept of sharing. When they are playing with a toy, they are all consumed, so when you suddenly take that toy away that toddler is not likely going to be happy about it! (Do you need to teach your child how to be more considerate? Read our How to raise a caring, sharing child to find out!)

Kids under the age of three feel a strong sense of ownership when it comes to objects and they're not developed enough to understand empathy. But don't fret – when kids are three and four they become aware that sharing is the right thing to do, and seven- and eight-year-olds will share without issue.

2. Some things are just too special to share
"I don't like to share my Lego toys because they are really special to me and all of them were bought by my mom. They took a long time to put together," says Anthony, my eight-year-old son. "But I don't mind sharing my beach toys if I'm not using them."

Try prying a teddy bear or a special toy from your child's arms to share with another child and you're just asking for a meltdown. One tip is to put away meaningful items before a play date. (If you want your kids to be more active, but have no idea how, have a look at our 10 free and fun activities for kids.)

"If there is something a child doesn't want to share, that is fine, but you will save a lot of drama by putting it on Mom's bed or in the closet for the time the other child is there," says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and mom of four who provides practical, straightforward advice with a twist of humour on her website Ask Doctor G.

3. Forcing kids to share isn't cool
I don't force my children to share because I want them to have ownership and responsibility for their belongings. If I go out somewhere and bring my tablet, laptop or phone with me, does that mean I should share it with another person? Of course not. We shouldn't expect our children to easily hand valuable items over to other children either.

However, I do encourage my children to be kind and to share with others because it's a nice thing to do, reinforcing how fun it will be to play with the toy together, for example. You want your kids to share and play nicely with others because they want to, not because they are being forced or shamed to.

4. Setting boundaries with siblings is important
"In our house the rule is: If you love it enough to sleep with it you don't have to share it the next day," says Gilboa. If your tween or teen has bought something with his own money, he doesn't have to share it with his siblings, she says.

"If you got it as a gift you should get some time to enjoy it before sharing, but whether or not it is eventually communal property is up to the family," says Gilboa. "We have given our older guys each a cubby and none of the other kids may take anything from there."  (If you need help figuring out how to organize each of your child's belongings, give our 10 storage solutions for kids stuff a look!)

5. Not everything should be shared
Food and snacks shouldn't be shared and can be especially dangerous if other children have allergies. At my sons' school, students are not allowed to share food because of this simple reason.

Also, when a child brings a bicycle or scooter to the park, it isn't safe for other children to use it, especially without a proper helmet. Not to mention, the last thing you'd want is to share a case of lice!

Maria Lianos-Carbone is publisher and editor of amotherworld, a lifestyle blog for women. It's another world when you're a mom, but you're still a woman! Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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