Why I’m Not Teaching My Kids To Share

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Should children be taught to share?

I think young children (under 7) should be taught to:

  1. Take turns
  2. Respect people’s ownership including other children’s property.

These are related concepts in how we adults confuse the hell out of kids, by demanding them to do one thing while we do another, affording them none of the behaviors we expect from other adults, and missing valuable teaching opportunities more so than “sharing.”

In the beginning, we went the way of “sharing” because it was status quo on the playground.

Then we realized that adults don’t go to each other’s houses and say, “Hey, let’s share your car” and grab the other person’s car keys to go for a drive. We don’t invade people’s closets, “I like your clothes, let’s share!”

Then why are we teaching — making — young kids “share”?

So we began to use “taking turns” in lieu of asking our kid to share.

Are we as adults going to demand that the kid take turns no matter what? In doing so, what’s the message we are conveying?

Soon, we ran into another problem. What if the object of desire belongs to a kid who doesn’t want to take a turn with their own toy?

It doesn’t matter if this is my kid wanting a turn with another kid’s toys, or another kid wanting a turn with my kid’s toys. Are we as adults going to demand that the kid take turns no matter what? In doing so, what’s the message we are conveying? “We’ll change the word we use, but in truth, you kid have no ownership over your own things. Give it up, kid, and give it up when we adults say so.”

So we began to teach our kid the concept of respecting other people’s property, including their right NOT to take turns. We will say, “It looks like he wants to play with his truck right now. What else can we do?” We will then redirect our kid to seek another object or area of interest.

We give our kid the same respect. When another kid gets forceful about my kid “giving up a turn” with his own things, we will tell that kid, “It looks like he wants to play with his toy right now. What else can you play with?”

This has helped our kid not fixate so much on “I am going to get that, because I want it, and I don’t care whose it is, I WANT IT NOW!” — a method of teaching delayed gratification (including dealing with the disappointment and frustration of no gratification at all), as well as teaching a kid impulse control.

When we adults convey nonverbal and verbal communication making “not taking turns = WRONG,” we lose the opportunity to teach kids the idea of personal ownership of self and property. I’m not saying that giving up your toy doll is the same as giving up your rights — but maybe for young kids these don’t seem that different: young kids have very little true domain over items, and they are shown at any given point any adult can come over and change the rules of ownership however temporarily.

So, NO. Kids shouldn’t be taught to share. Kids should be taught to take turns whenever applicable, and to respect the right of others, as well as their own right to not take turns.

Kids are then free to play with others who are more likely to cooperate and take turns, as well as find out ways to redirect their attention to something new to be interested in. I think this system is self-regulating, because a kid who consistently won’t take turns, will quickly find that they are playing alone as others flock to kids who are more willing to give others a turn with their toys. Over time they may observe that giving up their own toy for a few minutes does not mean that toy is never coming back, and over time kids will learn the social skill of taking turns and eventually — “sharing.”

Jane has had her writing featured by several prestigious publications, including Forbes, Newsweek, and Mashable. She wrote a memoir called “The Youngest Light,” and you can find more of her writing at her website www.janechin.com. See more of her Quora posts here:

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