I don’t make my kids share. Yep, that’s right. It is perfectly OK not to make your kids share their toys, clothes, blankets or space. While this may seem selfish, counter-productive and downright mean, it is absolutely essential to your child’s mental and emotional health.
When I was a kid, I grew up in a big family with one bathroom. It was a given that there would be conflict and boy conflict there was! It was impossible to use the bathroom without someone knocking on the door and hollerin’ and a wailing for you to hurry the moment you sat down to take care of business – if you know what I mean. 😉 Sometimes several people would do it within 2 minutes. No joke!! Not only was there a fight for the toilet on a daily basis, but it was impossible to take a bath or shower without Mom having to pick the lock, pull the shower curtain and let someone in to poop.
I also got to share a bedroom. Being an introvert and a HSP (highly sensitive person), this was particularly difficult for me, especially since I needed time alone to recharge on a regular basis. It felt like there was no place to escape to for that renewal I needed. But the hardest part of all was this: everything and anything I owned seemed to be up for grabs and was usually broken or disrespected. Too much of my stuff was taken without my permission and I didn’t always get it back.
You can imagine my delight when I got the opportunity to have my own bedroom when my Dad refinished the basement. I felt like I had some type of control over my life. I had privacy for the first time and a way to take ownership of my life. I was in a position to choose for myself what I allowed in and what I could block out, what I shared and what I kept to myself. If someone wanted to use or borrow anything of mine, they now had to ASK and get PERMISSION.
To their credit, my parents weren’t jerks about forcing us kids to share. I don’t have those types of childhood scars. But I have seen parents treat other people’s kids like they are entitled to take any toy, book or blanket from their own kid in the name of sharing. I have seen parents force kids to share their brand-new birthday presents before the birthday kid even gets a chance to bust them out of the packaging. I don’t know if this is a learned behavior from their own parents, or stems from the need to look like a great parent in front of other parents. The good news for my kid is that I don’t care very much if other parents think I am being a big fat meanie. Why?
It is emotionally abusive to make your kids share what is rightfully theirs.
And my kid’s emotional needs come before what other people think of me – especially when some are so quick to judge without all of the facts and research.
When I say that, I mean that they should never be forced to share something that belongs to them. I am NOT talking about community property. Community property is stuff that belongs to the whole family or to society as a whole. These things are indeed situations that forced sharing is totally acceptable. I am also NOT talking about situations where kids have to share because there is no other option at the moment, like sharing a bedroom.
But, when it comes to a kid’s personal space, body and belongings, a parent, or anyone else for that matter, has no right to take what is not theirs for “the greater good.” It is also important to enforce this concept with other family members, other parents, teachers, etc. I know, I know… I’m going to get a lot of backlash with this. People are going to have hurt feelings and rules and traditions that don’t agree. But before you let the hate fly, you owe it to yourself and your kids to understand what sharing really is and what it is not.
So, what is sharing?
The principle behind sharing is CHARITY. Charity is the VOLUNTARIY giving up of something one has stewardship over to another. It could be time, money, possessions or intimacy. To give anything, you must own it first, and to truly own something it has to be something that you fully control. The voluntary part means that the owner CHOOSES to give it. Nobody likes to be “voluntold” what to do or what to give. There is another word for that. It is called communism. With communism, you are forced to give up anything and everything when someone else decides you should. There is no such thing as forced charity. Forced charity is an oxymoron made for morons. The second charity is forced, it becomes blackmail, extortion or theft.
If we did as adults, what some kids are forced to do, what would that look like?
Let’s say your life-long BFF buys you a new car, but before you have driven it 10 miles, your neighbor wants to borrow it to take his sick dog to the vet. Before you can respond, your other neighbor rips the keys from your hand and throws them to the other neighbor and says, “Go for it!” Then he proceeds to lecture you about sharing, how much that poor dog with diarrhea is suffering, and how you are being selfish and that you didn’t buy it with your own money anyway.
Is that how we are supposed to operate as adults in society? I say no! So then why do it to your kids? Is there a separate set of rules for kids and another for adults? Are kids only part human? Are they a lesser class of humans?
So, in essence, when you make your kids share the things that truly belong to them, you are depriving them of the chance to experience true charity and teaching them that it is OK to engage in blackmail, extortion, or theft.
Some may say, but wait! My kid is so selfish and they need to learn!
Look, I get that some kids struggle with being selfish. But, here’s the thing. There are natural consequences for being selfish. People will be less willing to share with them, they may lose friends, or other kids may not want to play with them. They will learn, and sometimes having the freedom to choose is what a person is really looking for. Both adults and kids feel valued and loved when someone respects their space and things. When you feel that love, when you feel that you are important enough to have your own stuff and others respect your “no” you are in a better position to freely give and feel GOOD about it.
There is no better feeling than freely giving to others!
To illustrate how this works, I always ask my daughter if I can borrow anything she owns. I make other kids stay out of her room when she is not home. I let her choose what to share and what she would rather not share. I don’t make her hug or kiss people she is uncomfortable giving that intimacy to. And you know what? My daughter is one of the most giving people I know! She is fabulous at sharing! I am always awestruck at how generous she is with her time, toys and even food! I hate to admit it, but she is WAY more generous than I was as a kid.
And, just because I don’t make her share DOES NOT MEAN I never punish her by temporarily depriving her of some of her cherished belongings! I have no problem at all punishing her for misbehavior. And the reason I can take her stuff in those situations is this: She knows ahead of time what the consequences will be, that I am MOM and MOM is in charge of discipline, and that I am not taking her stuff just because I can or I feel entitled to it. I am not using it. I am locking it away in a safe place until she gets it back. Like her laptop, for instance. She knows ahead of time what unacceptable behaviors and rule-breaking will get those locked up for a day or more. She knows the consequences ahead of time and understands that it was her behavior that caused the loss.
There also may be instances when kids do naughty things like taunt or tease and play “keep away” with their toys and stick out their tongue knowing full well it drives other kids crazy with jealousy. In those cases you might choose to punish and teach a lesson with a type of forced sharing. It will teach appropriate vs. inappropriate use of belongings. Take a look at the parable in the Bible about the talents in Matthew 25:14–30. Remember the two that made good use of what they had and how the one who didn’t got it taken away and given to the one who made best use of the talents? This is not your typical case of forced sharing for charity’s sake, but a lesson in improper use of resources. Just make sure the kid is fully warned and aware of the consequences of their continued actions before you take the toy and give it to someone else.
It’s totally OK to ENCOURAGE kids to share. You can help them think positively about sharing or help them understand sharing with toddlers and babies. Just let them choose after they have been instructed.
I can tell you from experience that your kids will be happier, healthier and more giving if you don’t force them to share. They will have a better bond with you, they will trust you much more and they will love giving for all the right reasons. Sometimes my daughter will have a deliciously, mouth-watering treat and I will ask her if I can have some. (Most of the time, it is a test to see what she is willing to share and I end up refusing to take it.) She happily gives me what she wishes and it is usually half and she does it with a genuine smile.
When kids and adults fail to learn how to set proper boundaries for themselves with others, it makes them susceptible to abuse and victimization. It also encourages abusive behavior, because they think it’s OK to override a person when they tell them “no.”
Not forcing your kids to share is an important part of teaching them how to set healthy boundaries in relationships.
We live in a society that has an entitlement mentality and it is getting worse. You will have people that try and bully you for standing up to your kids, but stay strong and don’t give in to pressure! By helping your kids set healthy boundaries you are teaching them that they are important and that it is OK to have personal limits. You are also teaching them how to respect other people’s boundaries.
Boundary-setting skills will carry over to their adult lives and affect every single relationship they have!
Disclaimer: Jaimie is not the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, a lawyer, a doctor, a veterinarian, or a CPA. Nothing your read in my blog is a substitute for professional advice and doing your own good research. Remember that just because someone has credentials doesn’t guarantee their advice is golden or perfect. Put your smart hat on and do your due diligence. Good luck!