Don’t Force Sharing… Help Grow Generous Hearts!

siblings share generous

The “Toddler Rules of Sharing” linger well into childhood (and beyond)…

  1. If I like it, it’s mine.
  2. If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
  3. If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
  4. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
  5. If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.

Sometimes teaching kids to share may feel like pulling teeth. We humans are naturally selfish, and often young children express this selfishness most vocally with impressive bouts of whining. “But I don’t WANT to share!”

In our desire to teach kids generosity, sometimes parents swoop in and scold them into submission. “You share with your sister right now, or I’m taking that toy away!” “If you don’t let your little brother play too, you can’t have friends over anymore!”

But making kids share communicates hidden messages: “It’s no fun to share — you wouldn’t want to do it, so I have to make you share.”

And that is not truly sharing. It’s forced compliance.

As always, the first step of parenting is self-awareness. Could it be that our own belief about sharing is that it’s usually kind of a bummer, but it’s the right thing to do, so we just have to do it? Ouch. That strikes a little too close to home when I consider how selfish I can be sometimes. So why should we expect our kids to cheerfully do something we actually would prefer not to do?

Jesus always focused on inner heart over outward behavior. Forcing children to share does not grow a spirit of generosity! It is tempting to do because it makes us feel more powerful when frustrated by our children’s selfishness. But most likely what grows in our kids is resentment and further selfishness. And that’s not what we want for them. Consider 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (Of course God loves selfish sinners, too. But he rejoices when our actions flow from a heart of love, not compulsion or self-righteousness.)

The goal of teaching kids true sharing is to focus on the natural joy of it, not the obligation of it.

In Acts 20:35 “the Lord Jesus, …himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” The Greek word for ‘Blessed’ is ‘Makarioi’ which means ‘happy, supremely blessed and fortunate.’ Do we really believe that? How can we grow in that perspective as the base from which we work with our kids about learning to share?

After some candid self-awareness, you can effectively nurture the joy of sharing with your kids:

1) Nurture your own joy and value of sharing, then model and talk about it with your kids.

  • Think about a time you really enjoyed sharing, and tell your child about it.
  • Talk with your child about the charities, causes, or organizations with which you share your money and why.
  • Share a meal with another family or share a snack with your child and talk about the enjoyment of that experience.
siblings sharing generous pin
Photo Credit: Erdosain

2) Find ways to help your children choose to share.

  • Ask your child which neighbor you should share some cookies with, then make and deliver them together.
  • Help your child choose a pile of toys to share before inviting a friend to come over.
  • You could hold a family meeting to decide together what areas of the house are private play zones, and what areas are sharing zones.

3) Celebrate the results and natural blessings of sharing! (whether you’re modeling or helping your child to share.)

  • Share one of the verses above with your child, or Ephesians 2:10 (we are uniquely created to be a blessing).
  • Help your child notice the joy on others’ faces when they receive what is shared.
  • Set your child up to tell your spouse or other relative about how she felt when she shared. At dinner you can ask, “Who had fun sharing something today?”

The road of nurturing generosity is a long, slow process of building a life-long value. So be patient with your kids and yourself!