Should I make my kids share?

How to grow truly generous hearts

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.

How Expecting Your Kids to Fight Can Be a GOOD Thing!

Don’t miss a great opportunity to prepare kids for life.

“He hit me!!!” “She took my marker!”

Have you ever thought – “I am just refereeing 24/7, and I certainly have better things to do with my day. This is just not okay! The fighting needs to stop.”

Unfortunately, the more we have an expectation that our children should not fight, the harder it is to deal wisely with the challenge of conflict.

The reality is that kids fight all the time! University of Illinois professor and family researcher Laurie Kramer, PhD, has found that siblings between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict an average of 3.5 times an hour. The youngest kids (those in the 2-to-4 age group) are the most conflict prone at 6.3 conflicts per hour–or more than one clash every 10 minutes.*

Our kids aren’t going to stop fighting. In fact, we can expect that they will have many conflicts. What if we stopped viewing conflict as an unnecessary and irritating interruption, and started seeing it (and conflict resolution training) as an integral part of family life?

Children have neither the life experience nor the cognitive abilities to resolve conflict well. They are not bad kids, and I am not a bad parent if they fight! We are all “beloved messes” – works in progress. It’s helpful to adjust our expectations to fit our kids’ abilities and embrace the fact that conflict is quite normal.

Here are a few reasons to view conflict as the best way to build essential skills for your kids’ future:

  • Unlike friends who squabble, siblings can’t retreat to a separate house when they fight. You are shaping your kids’ future marriages and parenting skills by helping them gain skills to solve and negotiate conflicts in their intimate, lasting relationships.  What a great gift to them!
  • You are also equipping them for success at school. Research shows that “kids who practiced the best conflict-resolution skills at home carried those abilities into the classroom.”*
  • Adult life is all about peer relationships. Prepare kids to be effective team members at work or church. When siblings make peace after a brawl by tossing a pillow as they go to bed, they are learning the skills to playfully tease a cranky co-worker, or thaw the ice in a tense church committee meeting with a light-hearted joke.
  • An added benefit that we’ve seen in our work with families: Siblings who battle more as children tend to be closer as adults than siblings who avoid each other. They may even find themselves affectionately reminiscing about their crazy arguments as kids.

With this in mind, stop legislating solutions to the conflict, which trains children to be dependent on you. Facilitate their learning, so that you eventually work yourself out of your referee job!

The question is not whether your kids will have conflict (they will).
The question is, what are you going to teach your kids about how to handle it?

Join us for our online course Sibling Conflict: From Bickering to Bonding. Registration closes June 30!

*The New Science of Siblings

This post is made possible through our generous donors and sponsors. Join us in reaching more families!

Should I Require Fighting Kids to Apologize?

Read this mom’s story of genuine reconciliation

Sibling conflict can be discouraging as parents wonder, “Will these kids ever learn to get along? Will they ever be close?” Jim and I wondered that. Our online course, Siblings: From Bickering to Bonding, is packed with the insights and practical tools we learned. We guided our kids from hurtful, even aggressive conflicts, to the joy, connection and heartfelt reconciliation that has equipped them to thrive in all their important relationships. 

Carrie, a single mom of triplets shared her story of implementing what she has learned in the course:

I watched the segment in your sibling online course about how to guide kids to repair broken relationships. I thought about the valuable opportunity to empower kids for true reconciliation. After bathtime, conflict inevitably erupted among my 5-year-old triplets over who was going to dry off with which towel.

Before the course, I would have quickly decreed who got which towel and commanded an apology: “Sorry.” “I forgive you.” No one would have meant it, of course, and by the time we had all said our well-rehearsed scripts, we would be scowling at each other.

Finding Sanity During Family Car Trips

5 Tips for Peace in the Back Seat

“Are we there yet?” “I have to go to the bathroom!” “I want a Happy Meal NOW!” “No, I want Taco Bell!!”

Ahh, the bliss of car-trip vacations. Whether our children are toddlers or teens, the stress of riding in the car together for extended periods can taint the whole vacation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could time-warp ourselves to our destinations? It’s appealing, but obviously not reality. The real-life temptation is simply to equip each child with a glowing device full of their favorite movies or games, and communicate the message… when it’s hard to get along, we just turn to screens to solve the problem. So let’s look at it differently, because a helpful insight for car rides or any other difficult parenting situation is: Every challenge holds a golden opportunity!

The challenge of car rides together is a great opportunity for connection, teamwork, and creative problem-solving.

Here are some practical, simple ideas:

Equipping Kids to Calm

Practical ways to build your child’s self-regulation skills

Parents want to be able to help their kids calm down when conflict happens. So it can be quite discouraging when conflicts spiral out of control. If screaming matches are normal at your house, or even if they are infrequent but still troublesome, here are three developmental stages to consider. Whether you have a toddler or a teen, we’ll offer practical tips to help you teach your kids to calm down so they can solve problems well.

“Go To Your Room!”

Why your child resists and what you can do

“Here we go again,” you think as your child gets more and more beet red in the face and your voices escalate. Realizing your face color is matching his, shade for glowing shade, you command, “Go to your room!” with as much dominant “authority” as possible! But even if your child complies, you know he hates feeling controlled and grows ever more resentful. You feel stuck, and wonder how this dynamic will look in 5 or 10 years…

To get unstuck from this pattern, it helps to understand how you might feel if you were angrily sent to your room:  Ashamed, intimidated, powerless and defeated? Misunderstood and seething under the surface?

When Kids Want it NOW!!!

“I want it! Can I have it? I want it NOW!”

Regardless of how articulate your teen or toddler may be, most parents are familiar with variations of this demand. When we hear this from our kids we’re inclined to quickly pronounce, “No!” and the fight or flight game is on. The two options we’ve given our kids are to 1) give in or 2) dig in and fight. When our kids give in, it’s not because they understand our logic or reasoning, it’s because they know they can’t win the fight. More often, however, they dig in and the power struggle intensifies.

The truth is, whether kids give in or not, simply pronouncing “No!” misses a great opportunity to help a child learn responsibility and wisdom, and our quick, firm refusal may also provoke an even stronger compulsion to get stuff as a way of feeling significant.

So consider this approach instead:

Build Character (Not Entitlement!) in Active Kids

From sports, to music, to theater and more….our kids have an endless supply of excellent extra-curricular activities at their fingertips. More than at any time in history! With this abundance, kids easily become a little (or a lot) self-focused and inclined to develop the dreaded “Entitlement” mentality unless we have been thoughtful and diligent to combat it.

Warding off the entitlement bug requires being very intentional about participation in extracurriculars, and how to guide your kids to feel more grateful and less entitled.

The first issue to address is about the “why?” – why do we participate in these activities? The answer to this question is the basis for cultivating either a sense of entitlement or a sense of gratitude and grand purpose. The answers might range anywhere from, “So I can develop good skills for life.” Or, “So I can fit in with other kids.” Or, “So I can get a college scholarship.” Each of these “why’s?” is common, but you’ll notice that each is self-focused.

My child doesn’t believe in God. Now what?

Many discouraged parents have asked us this question: How should we respond to our child who doubts the reality of God?

When children suggest “there is no God” it’s natural for parents to immediately try to convince them otherwise. It’s a good intention, but one that often deepens the chasm between kids’ doubts and their movement toward God. If this is your reality, understand that there is probably little you can say, (because they’ve probably heard all the arguments before) but much that you can DO to make it safe for your kids to struggle back toward Jesus when they have doubts.

When Kids Don’t Listen

Breaking into your Child’s Focus Bubble with Grace

When Kids Do Not Listen (1)

“How do I get my child to listen?!!”
Listening when you’re addressed by someone is a great life skill, but one that often our children don’t seem too eager to learn! Frustrated parents often say, “I hate it, but I just have to yell, and then they’ll
finally listen.” What we’ve learned through decades of coaching parents is that a little connection and creativity goes a long way in helping kids tune in when they hear, “Time for dinner!” or “Pick up your toys, please!”