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Why Do We Force Kids to Share?

Why Do We Force Kids to Share?

Time and time again we hear about the virtues of “modeling behavior” for children, in an effort to teach them how the real world operates. Parents are usually very diligent about teaching some of these difficult lessons, particularly the ones involving socialization, to their children. However, when it comes to sharing (one of the more common subjects of conflict between adults and children) parents fall miserably short in modeling the desirable behavior. I once had the opportunity, with another parent friend of mine, to watch our two boys go at it over some, now long forgotten, toy. We were encouraging them to share, and the boys simply didn’t want to share and objected to the competing child’s desire for the coveted item. We took a laissez faire approach and the boys miraculously worked it out. This got us two dads talking about the inherent hypocrisy of what we were asking, as besides borrowing a few tools from one another on occasion, we rarely model the behavior of sharing in our own adult lives. We don’t share the food off our plates, our clothes, cars, or cell phones, so why should we expect our children to want to model behavior that was largely abstract to them. In short, adults are great dictators, but not so good at sharing, and maybe it is unreasonable to expect miracles from our children who just want something for themselves…even if it is just for a brief minute.

Obviously parents (and guardians) try to reinforce, what they view as positive, generous behavior among their developing children, and selfish and possessive behavior is commonly frowned upon by parents, teachers, and adults alike. But are we going to such great lengths to instill virtue that we risk shutting our children out and undermining their own moral and social development?

In an excellent article penned for Slate.com, Michael Erard delves into the difficulty, as well as the inherent hypocrisy, in demanding that children “learn to share.” Erard, through a selection of anecdotes, reveals that children, whether they are willing or unwilling to share, often learn the lesson of sharing, not through adult intervention and pressure, but simply by working it out amongst themselves. “I’m not against sharing as a virtue or an important aspect of social life. But I do think parents should model it before they try to teach it,” Erard maintains. “When they do, they should teach it to those who are cognitively able to grasp the concept, and to those who have a shot at negotiating the terms—and who might be able to share on their own when adults aren’t around.”

Today’s parents tend to be quite anxious about their child’s developing moral center. Combine this with ubiquitous parental anxiety about their child’s level of frustration, satisfaction, and happiness, and you have an almost irresistible desire to intervene when it comes to a tussle over a doll, or a truck, or any matter involving sharing of one’s property. Erard quote Joseph Tobin, an educational anthropologist at Arizona State University, who sites parent’s own unresolved issues from their own childhoods when he says, “”We expect parents to have some appropriate ways of dealing with the inequalities of childhood wealth when the parents can’t talk about this with each other.”

In many respects these child-based conflicts over sharing very startlingly mirror many of the contemporary conflicts going on in this country (on an adult level). How much stuff should one person possess? Is it fair for those with the most stuff to have to share with those who have little or nothing? Should we always be charitable and selfless, or is there any virtue in keeping much of it for yourself? Ask yourself some of these questions and you realize that we, as adults, have a lot more sharing and figuring out to do.

How have you tackled the issue of sharing in your life, and your child’s? Do you feel compulsory sharing should be taught? Is it better to allow children to figure it out for themselves and sometimes fight and struggle in the process? Is it fair to expect more from our children than we do of ourselves?

Read more: Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Love, Mental Wellness, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, Teens, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

64 comments

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11:53AM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

ty

4:52AM PST on Dec 4, 2012

I've raised eight children and have always taught them to share. I took the time to explain to them when they were little how sharing was showing love to the other person. It is in their nature.
Now they are all adults. They all have their 'own' things, but never have a problem sharing if needs be. They look after and care for each other and are teaching their children to do the same. Love is the key. Selfishness and greed is not love.

12:43PM PST on Nov 20, 2011

thanks

12:00PM PST on Nov 10, 2011

Interesting read - definitely food for thought

6:58AM PST on Nov 7, 2011

sharing isn't a very capitalist concept. i'm surprised conservatives aren't accusing us of teaching kids socialism.

7:01PM PST on Nov 6, 2011

Hmm interesting.. thanks

10:23AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

Wow, that's sad for those who don't share. Those could become more greedier and steal.

5:16AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

thanks

10:38AM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

Very true.

5:04PM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

I think sharing is an extremely important thing to teach. I don't believe children can learn this easily without the behaviour being modelled but I also disagree with the notion that adults don't share. I am often going without my favourite part of a meal because my kids would like to have more and mine is all that's left. We share our beds when our kids want to crawl in for the warmth, we share our income and quite often go without the things we desire so that our children get something that makes them feel special. We show them that sharing is important when we fill up a food bank bag or donate a small amount to charities when they come to the door in need. Our general rule is that if there are two people, both wanting the same thing, there is always a way to work it out so that both people can be happy, neither one getting the object at the others expense. Two ways we deal with this; take turns, or play/work together. My two boys are extremely generous and kind and if my special importance placed on the role of sharing is the reason for that then that is proof enough for me. When we don't teach sharing we are providing support to the thinking that 'I' or 'me' is the most important, with all others being of lesser importance and that we must look out for ourselves first and foremost. This is backwards to me, we should all be helping one-another, and teaching this to the smallest members of society is crucial.

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