Positive Parenting: Rethinking “You Have To Share That!”

Positive Parenting: Rethinking “You Have To Share That!”

Let’s talk sharing. I found myself lingering in our local library yesterday, enjoying the new ‘learn, play, read’ area they’ve created for infants to preschoolers. I watched how parents quietly sat on the floor and stayed present to their exploring little ones. I loved the access to so many fabulous books.

And I heard the inevitable “Share!” “No, no, be nice, you have to share.” “You can’t have that, you have to share it.”

sharing and kids

This sharing deal? It really is more about us than our children. Think about it. Developmentally it is between 3 and 5 that children really grasp what sharing is all about. Yet we demand our toddlers and young preschoolers to somehow just ‘know’ how to do it. And whew, wouldn’t it be nice if they did! No fighting, arguing, grabbing…all is good and we can feel like good parents.

Sharing requires understanding of another person’s feelings and desires. Sharing is about being creative with another as you use something together, it is about being compassionate and giving, it is about being respectful.

How do our young one’s grow into the sharing mode?

By our understanding of THEIR feelings and desires, our compassion, our giving, our being respectful of them. It also begins with complete ownership over something.

Think about it. Think about your teen years…say you had worked many hours to save up for the beautiful new sweater or dress that you finally bought and your sister demands wearing it prior to you (since you were saving it for that special date) and your parent insisted you “be kind and share, for heaven’s sake”–how might you feel?

I believe you’d feel resentful. You might share, but begrudgingly. It would make you mad. And think about how it might influence your relationship with your sister.

This is what is communicated when we, out of our own desire to have our children ‘be nice’ and have what seems to be conflict go away, make our little ones share.

What to do instead of requiring our children share?

Respect ownership. If a young toddler knows for sure their time with an item is fully respected, if that is the norm for them that they can be fully submerged in their exploration of whatever toy, then when they feel done it is a simple extension to letting the next toddler have it. All we have to do is respect their feelings, their time, their choice.

Here are some examples that highlight sharing with respect for feelings, time and choices  into practice:

…”You want a turn with the stuffed kitty.” Pause. “Timmy, Grace wants a turn with the kitty.” Pause. “Oh, Grace. It looks like Timmy isn’t done with the kitty. Would you like to play with the truck or read a book while you wait for a turn?”

…”It makes you mad that you can’t have the kitty right now. It’s hard to wait, isn’t it? Let’s go over here together and I can help you wait for your turn.”

…”When you grab the book, it makes Sally mad. She wasn’t done with it.” Pause. “Sally, do you want to finish looking at the book or can Erik have it?” Pause. “Looks like Sally wants to finish reading the book. Erik, can you hand it back or would you like me to help you?” Pause. “Here, I will help you give it back. I know, you really want a turn. Maybe we can read it together? Or maybe you and I can read THIS book until Sally is done.”

…”Hmmm. I see two children who both want the puzzle.” Pause. “Wow, Mikey REALLY wants to use it and Sarah is already working with the pieces.” Pause. “Is there another puzzle in this room that we could find?” “Is there something else Mikey might want to play with–Sarah, could you find something for Mikey while he waits for you to be all done?” Or…”Here’s a piece for you to work with, Mikey. Sarah, are you going to put your piece in? Mikey, where does yours fit? Look how you can both work on the puzzle!”

What do children learn when we don’t force sharing but rather honor their feelings, time and needs?

  • Respect
  • Understanding of feelings
  • Greater awareness of their own feelings and another’s.
  • What to do when there is conflict.

These are all necessary for future sharing. The cool thing? As you PAUSE…and observe before even jumping in, you may notice these little ones handle it just fine between them. Maybe when a toy is grabbed from another, the other doesn’t mind. Neither should we. They are learning. Maybe when a toy is grabbed it gets grabbed back. Wait. See how it plays out.

Intervention really is only necessary when big feelings take over or hitting/biting begins. Now it’s time to step in, describe what you see, affirm feelings, and pause…always pause through-out, giving your child the opportunity to process and respond. You may be surprised with what they decide to do.

Sharing begins with respect for ownership. When a young child feels respected–when their time with something is honored–they naturally will ‘share’ with another.

What does this require from us?

  • Calming our anxiety over what seems like conflict, fighting, disagreements.
  • Calming ourselves down as we find ourselves with other parents who do it differently.

I know what worked for me was to stay focused on the children involved rather than talk with the other parent. Or I would say, “Let’s see how our kids work it out, first.” Or we’d just chalk up a disintegrating situation to just that. A disintegrating situation. An opportunity to affirm feelings and get the heck out of there.

I would like to invite you to relax today about all this sharing business. Let your toddler and young preschooler finish what they are doing. Show them the respect you want to see in them as they grow. Trust the process–sharing evolves naturally, and sharing evolves later. Honor the steps one at a time that will create the foundation for not only sharing, but positive and healthy relationships. There is no hurry.

©2014 Alice Hanscam


About the Author:

Alice Hanscam is a regular contributor to the Positive Parenting Connection. She is a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, Certified Screamfree Trainer, and owner of Denali Parent Coaching. Visit her website , facebook page or contact her atdenaliparentcoaching@gmail.com for more information.

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Alice is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® with a B.A. in Child Study and a graduate level certification for coaching through the Parent Coaching Institute and Seattle Pacific University. She is a proud mother of two (nearly) grown daughters who are spreading their wings and leaving smiles behind as they go. Click here to purchase Alice's new book: Parenting Inspired: Finding Grace in the Chaos, Confidence in Yourself, and Gentle Joy along the Way

6 Responses to Positive Parenting: Rethinking “You Have To Share That!”

  1. Oh my gosh, thank you for this wonderful insight! You explained it all so clearly and it makes so much sense. I love always been a bit leery over forced sharing and try not to do that. But sometimes I forget and fall into the trap – often it’s because I’m in public (!) and I feel the pressure of other people (parents) and it becomes an issue of me feeling confident in my choices and not allowing other people’s beliefs get in the way. Thank you for reminding me of this.

  2. Thank you so much for this post!
    I felt it was wrong to push my daughter into sharing until she is ready, it just feels wrong, but couldn’t really explain why (except that she is not ready). You added reasoning :-).
    Also, the hardest part is dealing with the other parents who do expect me to teach my daughter to share as much as they teach their kids. So I think after reading this post it will be easier when such an incident should occur – both being calm with the other parents (and focus on the kids) and tips too for dealing with such incidents [and pausing!]

  3. I just now saw the comments to this post of mine. I appreciate hearing that this has left you feeling a bit more confident and inspired to support your children well! I’d love to hear how it is going…especially the ‘in public’ times!

  4. I just now read your comment and I thank you for letting me know how this supports you as you parent well. It is so often when we are with other parents that it gets difficult. Let me know how being calm and keeping your focus to the children is working for you…

  5. This is exactly how I try to approach sharing. I won’t make my son give up a toy that he is actively playing with, and I won’t demand that another child give up a toy just because my son thinks it looks fun. My son is 3, and I’ve been working with him to understand that he can’t take a toy that another kid is actively playing with, although I encourage him to offer to trade a different toy for it (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; if the other kid isn’t interested, I again don’t try to force the issue). I try to just stick with words unless my son looks like he’s about to get overwhelmed and lash out physically. I also have been known to return toys for him when he takes them.

    What’s hard for me is that so many other parents don’t subscribe to the same school of thought as I do. I have gotten some pretty dirty looks at the playground for not forcing my son to “share” just because another child wants to play. I also get snide comments about “That’s why they need to go to preschool,” which is frustrating. I really don’t think a 3 year old truly grasps the concept of sharing yet, and younger kids definitely don’t either!

    Anyway, thank you for this post. It’s got a lot of good ideas for ways to deflect my son’s attention when he gets fixated on something that is already being played with by someone else.

  6. Holly, thank you for sharing that. The playground situations can be tricky to navigate for sure. I remember taking really deep breaths and reminding myself that my relationship with my child was the one for the long term and then just trying to be respectful and kind to other parents. Sometimes for me, just smiling and saying, “this sharing stuff sure takes practice!” was enough to break a bit of the tension. I agree with you, 3 year olds are not really sure what the big deal is with sharing, they are so in the moment, it’s pretty neat…In the playgroups I facilitate, I find most small “conflicts” about toys get solved very quickly with little to no interference if we (parents) just trust the kids to work it out and accept their feelings about it. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

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