What Should I Know About Teaching Kids To Share?

Sharing is healthy, but children must also learn it's okay to set boundaries.

Sharing is caring…isn’t it? Older generations certainly thought so. There probably isn’t an adult alive who wasn’t frequently told to share their toys. Naturally, we feel the need to mimic this type of parenting with our own children. The impulse to teach children to share is understandable – the act is a sign of kindness, and that’s just what we want our kids to be. However, there’s a difference between teaching kids to share and forcing them to do so. The former is a healthy process, while the latter might compromise your child’s sense of agency.

Wait…it’s okay to say “no”?

You may not know her by name, but Alanya Kolberg is rocking parenting circles. Back in April, she wrote a Facebook post detailing an experience she and her child shared on the playground. Kolberg’s son was approached by several children who demanded he share his toys. Her son clearly didn’t want to part with them, but instead of speaking to the other kids directly, he looked to his mother for guidance.

Kolberg told her son he could say no.

This, in her words, earned her some dirty looks from other parents. However, Kolberg’s explanation for her decision makes sense.

“The goal is to teach our children how to function as adults,” she wrote on Facebook. “While I do know some adults who clearly never learned how to share as children, I know far more who don’t know how to say no to people, or how to set boundaries, or how to practice self-care.”

With that statement, Kolberg hits an important point many parents overlook. When we force our children to share and deny them the opportunity to say no, we take away their ability to define their own boundaries. We also imply that children are entitled to the toys of another – in the story, the boys immediately turned to Kolberg, believing she’d force her son to give them what they wanted simply because they wanted it.

Kids playing on a playground.Children must learn they have the agency to set their own boundaries.

So what do we do?

Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing kids sharing, but as parents, we need to encourage this behavior in a healthy manner. The key is to build empathy and make your children want to share, not demand they do so. As your kids learn to be kind, they’ll naturally open up to the idea of sharing. At the same time, they’ll still have the agency to guard their own boundaries.

Pregnancy and parenting brand What to Expect had some great tips for encouraging sharing in a healthy way. Set a good example by sharing things yourself or asking your children to share with you. Promote their self-esteem, teach them about ownership and above all, be patient.

Ultimately, teaching your children to share is about striking a delicate balance. Focus on building empathy, not sharing for the sake of it, and your kids will understand the importance of being kind.

Autumn Green is an artist-turned-writer who traded the sweet tea of the south for the deep dish pizza of Chicago. Her favorite subjects include art, culture, design, small business/entrepreneurship and healthful living.