Should You Teach Your Children To Share?

To Share or Not to Share: A Balanced Perspective on Teaching Children to Share

There is some debate in the parenting world whether you should teach your children to share their toys or not. Sharing is often considered a fundamental social skill that children should learn from a young age. However, the question of whether we should actively teach children to share remains a topic of debate among child development experts and parents alike.

One thing that all the research supports is that sharing behaviour does not develop fully until the child is 3 years old. Parents often encourage their children to share food and toys, and infants are observed to do so by 12 to 18 months of age. You can buy books that encourage sharing through their messaging.

I am on the fence and think there are a number of nuances to this. We have 5 children and arguments about sharing toys, attentions and chores are common. This discussion article will explore both viewpoints, presenting arguments for and against teaching children to share.

teaching children to share. two children in a warehouse playing with blocks

Why You Should Teach Your Child to Share

Firstly, sharing is seen as a fundamental social skill that promotes cooperation, empathy, and positive relationships among individuals. Secondly, teaching children to share instills values of fairness and equality, as it helps them understand the importance of considering others’ needs and perspectives. Thirdly, sharing encourages the development of essential life skills such as waiting, compromise, turn taking, and problem-solving, which are crucial for navigating various social interactions and situations. Ultimately, the belief that children should be taught to share is deeply rooted in the belief that sharing not only benefits individuals, their group, but also contributes to the overall well-being and harmony of society. The belief that children should be taught to share is rooted in several key arguments:

Sharing Develops of Social Skills

Sharing is a cornerstone of successful social interaction. It teaches children about empathy, kindness, and fairness. By learning to share, children can more effectively navigate social situations, contributing to positive relationships with peers.

Share to Create a Sense of Community

Sharing encourages children to think beyond themselves, promoting a sense of community and cooperation. It helps them understand that their actions impact others and that they are part of a larger social group.

Sharing Prepares Them for the Real World

In adult life, sharing is often a necessity. Whether it is sharing resources at work or responsibilities in a household, the real world requires a certain level of sharing and cooperation. Teaching children to share can prepare them for these future realities.

Extract Teaching children to share. Aliens playing frisbee.
Extract From: Not Fair, Won’t Share – A book about sharing (Our Emotions and Behaviour)

Why You Shouldn’t Teach Your Child to Share

On the flip side, some argue that children shouldn’t be explicitly taught to share. Here’s why:

Respect for Personal Boundaries

In the quest to teach sharing, we may inadvertently disregard a child’s right to personal belongings and space. This might send a confusing message about consent and personal boundaries. Children should also learn their right to say no, and that their belongings are their own to control.

Forced Sharing Isn’t Genuine

When children are forced to share, it may not foster genuine generosity or empathy. Instead, it might lead to resentment or compliance out of fear of punishment.

Natural Development of Sharing Skills

Some believe that sharing is a skill that children naturally develop over time as their empathy and understanding of social norms evolve. Forced sharing might interfere with this natural progression and may not be as effective as allowing children to learn these skills at their own pace. Some research has suggested that children share less as they get older (Huichang 2014)

A Balanced Approach

While both perspectives offer valid arguments, perhaps the most effective approach lies somewhere in the middle.

Guided Sharing

Instead of forcing children to share, parents and educators can guide children towards sharing. This could involve discussing feelings, highlighting the benefits of sharing, and modeling sharing behavior.

Respect for Personal Boundaries

While promoting sharing, it’s essential to respect a child’s personal boundaries. Children should have the right to control their belongings, and forced sharing should be avoided. Instead, encourage children to share when they’re ready.

Flexible Sharing Rules

Sharing rules can be flexible and context-dependent. For example, a child might be expected to share public resources, like playground equipment, but not their special toys. In conclusion, the debate over teaching children to share presents an opportunity to reflect on our approaches to teaching social skills. By considering both perspectives, we can strive to strike a balance – promoting sharing and empathy, while also respecting children’s autonomy and personal boundaries. This nuanced approach to sharing can help children navigate their social world with understanding, compassion, and respect.

Should You Teach Your Children To Share? Cover image for pinterest

References and Research on Sharing in Children

Brownell, C. A., Svetlova, M., & Nichols, S. (2009). To share or not to share: When do toddlers respond to another’s needs? Infancy : The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies, 14(1), 117.

Brownell, C. A., Iesue, S. S., Nichols, S. R., & Svetlova, M. (2013). Mine or Yours? Development of Sharing in Toddlers in Relation to Ownership Understanding. Child Development, 84(3), 906-920.

Coelho, L., Torres, N., Fernandes, C., & Santos, A. J. (2017). Quality of play, social acceptance and reciprocal friendship in preschool children. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 1807(September), 1–12.

Doland, D. J., & Adelberg, K. (1967). The Learning of Sharing Behavior. Child Development, 38(3), 695–700.

Handlon, B. J., & Gross, P. (1959). The development of sharing behavior. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59(3), 425–428.

Huichang, C., Xifeng, G., Lili, Q., & Sinan, L. (2004). The Developmental Trends and Characteristics of Sharing Behaviors of Pupils of 7 – 11 Years Old. Psychological Science (China), 27(3), 571–574.

Loy, Jia Shin & Shin, & Rizal, Ahmad. (2019). Reviews of Educational Toy Designs in Cultivating Social Competence of Preschool Children. 12. 69.

Paulus, M., & Moore, C. (2014). The development of recipient-dependent sharing behavior and sharing expectations in preschool children. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 914–921.

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