Left to their own devices, toddlers form “rules of possession” that can last a lifetime if not understood and addressed by parents. Does this list look familiar?
- If I like it, it’s mine.
- If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
- If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
- If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
- If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
Forcing kids to share robs them of the joy of sharing. However, cultivating joy in sharing leads to true generosity. This road of nurturing generosity is a slow process of building a life-long value. So be patient with your kids and yourself!
Armed with the guiding insights and proactive strategies below, you’ll be able to help your children learn to value and even enjoy sharing!
Three Guiding Insights:
1) We are all selfish!
Let’s face it, we grown-ups can be just as selfish as our kiddos. We just know how to shine it up better. Do we readily share our cars, our boats, our mowers, or our prize possessions? When we do it’s often with an unspoken “you break it, you replace it” clause, or an “I’ll scratch your back if you remember to scratch mine later” sort of attitude. We might even “keep track” to make sure the score stays even. Honesty about this helps us be more graceful with our struggling kids AND inclined to be better examples of sharing.
2) Forced “sharing” grows resentment and selfishness, not generosity.
Our good intentions to teach sharing can cause us to say things like, “You share with your sister or I’m taking that toy away.” “If you don’t let your little brother play too, you can’t have friends over.” The messages underneath this approach are: “It’s no fun to share — you wouldn’t want to do it, so I have to make you share.” This reinforces the belief that sharing is a frustrating obligation. Even though it may make us feel in control for the moment, forcing kids to share most likely grows resentment and more selfishness, not generosity. This insight helps us let go of our need to control outward behavior.
3) Jesus always focused on inner heart over outward behavior.
I’m guessing Jesus would have considered “forced sharing” an oxymoron, and nothing more than intimidated compliance. If kids never see toys as their own, they can’t share them, they can only play together with something controlled by an adult. Generosity starts when I recognize something is truly mine and I want to share it with someone.
What might my kids be learning about sharing from my example?
What might they be learning from how I respond to them when sharing is difficult?
If forced sharing doesn’t work….what does? Read more to find out.
4 Ways to Teach Sharing:
1) Be a joyful sharer!
In Acts 20:35 Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” If we really believe this, we’ll live it out by sharing generously. To say “our family is blessed!” but to keep those blessings to ourselves is the starting place for kids to learn selfishness. If we become models of sharing our blessings with the world around us, our kids will follow suit.
2) Build a value of sharing.
- Talk excitedly about sharing you’ve done and the charities you support, and why.
- Ask kids sharing oriented questions:
How do you feel when people share with you?
What’s good about playing with someone and sharing your toys?
What are your favorite toys to share? Why?
- Affirm any sharing you notice among your kids, pointing out the fun that resulted.
3) Create opportunities for your child to choose to share.
- Together with your kids decide what areas of the house are common spaces and what are private play zones for a special toy or project. They know they are choosing to share or take turns when playing in the common spaces.
- Help your child choose a selection of toys to share before inviting a friend to come over, putting special or breakable toys out of sight.
- When your kids outgrow bikes or toys, involve them in deciding whom to give them to, maybe a younger neighbor or young sibling of a friend.
4) When your child shares, celebrate! Having fun cements learning.
- Help your child notice the joy on friends’ or siblings’ faces when he shares toys with them, or when he gives toys away to younger kids.
- Set your child up to tell others (a parent or a relative) about how she felt when she shared.
- Teach kids that the joy they feel when they share is because they are made in God’s image, who so generously and joyfully shares good things with us (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “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 us when we’re selfish, but He rejoices when our actions flow from a heart of love, not compulsion or self-righteousness. Let’s guide our kids into living out God’s image in them as they generously and joyfully share with others.
Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook When Your Child Misbehaves – Four Strategies for Lasting Change.