Whenever there is a group of children, sharing is so often seen as the holy grail, isn’t it? As parents there can be so much pressure to ensure our child is seen as a “good sharer”! But with sharing, as with so many aspects of parenting, children’s developmental abilities don’t always match the societal expectations we put upon them. So what do we do if our child doesn’t share?

I believe that as parents, we should never force our children to share. Why? I feel that it is disrespectful, and it is hypocritical; by forcing children to share, we are demanding something of them we would never demand of ourselves, namely to give up something that instant just because someone else wants it. Imagine if someone bigger than you forced you to give your mobile phone / wedding ring / other treasured possession to someone else, just because the other person wanted it? You would probably feel angry and violated and like the world was a scary, unsafe place. Yet I have seen parents forcibly remove a toy from their child and hand it over to another, on more than one occasion.

I cannot think of one positive outcome from that behaviour. I strongly suspect it makes the child feel insecure about their possessions, think that “sharing” is bad, and be less likely to genuinely share later down the line. Children have a strong inbuilt sense of fairness; what is fair about teaching them “others can take what they want from you, but you must never take from them?” I also wonder if it leads to difficulty with establishing boundaries and an inability to say “no” to people; certainly it worries me from a consent perspective.

There are positive ways in which we can teach our children to share, however! Sharing is absolutely a learned behaviour, and one which we as parents can encourage. We can:

  • Model sharing ourselves. Sharing with our children and with others is a simple and powerful way to show them that sharing is enjoyable.
  • Encourage generosity. Making cards or painting pictures for others, bringing an extra snack for a friend when on a playdate, choosing a gift together for someone’s birthday, baking for visitors, donating food to a food bank collection point… there are many simple ways to encourage generosity without having to “share”.
  • Talk about how our actions make people feel, highlighting how good it feels for the other person when we share of our own accord.
  • Focus on turn-taking rather than sharing. This is so useful for me as a parent, and has nipped many an argument in the bud. This works especially well when the “turn” is relatively concrete, such as sliding down a slide or pressing a button, rather than just playing with something.
  • Support our children when they are waiting for their turn. It’s always hard to wait for things you want, especially when you are two! Supporting and validating their feelings and providing a safe space for strong emotions is one of the most important things we can do as parents.
  • Think about where to have playdates. I find that playdates in a neutral space such as a park or playground can be far less fraught than held indoors in a child’s home where they – rightly – feel a sense of ownership over their possessions. If this isn’t possible or desirable think ahead of time perhaps about putting away any “special” toys, or talking together and choosing which items your child would like to keep out.
  • Not take toys out with us. Linked to my point above, I try to really discourage Frida from taking toys out, as these can lead to tensions and arguments if other children want to play with them! If toys do come out then usually we agree that we will keep them in the bag, unless she feels she wants to share them. Likewise, if another child has a prized toy with them, we are firm with boundaries around that toy. One of the children we see regularly has a precious stuffed dog which comes with him everywhere, and Frida knows that he is special and “out of bounds” for her to play with.

Navigating snatching and grabbing

It’s not always easy or simple. One of the things I have found so difficult to navigate is snatching and grabbing. Young children will often grab from each other, and as a parent this can feel SO hard; if our child is the one grabbing we can feel embarrassed or under pressure to tell them off, ask them to apologise*, or even snatch back the item to return it (although why we would feel it’s ok to tell a child not to grab whilst grabbing from them I don’t know!), and if our child is the one who is being grabbed from we can feel angry and hurt on their behalf and even annoyed at the other child, especially if they are bigger.

My preference is, as far as possible, to let the children work it out together whilst providing emotional support for Frida and staying very close by to prevent escalation. This can feel incredibly uncomfortable if she is the child doing the grabbing though, particularly if it’s obvious that the other parent is upset on their own child’s behalf. If we are in a situation where she in a “snatchy” mood then I find I have to stay very watchful so that I can gently intercept her, taking her aside and talking to her about why I have acted in that way if necessary and reinforcing that we cannot just take things away from other people. I have found this is much easier to navigate when the other parent is a friend – not least because we also know each other’s children well and will be able to diffuse a situation with more ease!

The balance between respecting the children involved in the squabble and giving them time and space to reach a solution, and ensuring boundaries are enforced and everyone stays safe, is a difficult one, especially when we feel judged for our child’s behaviour, and I’m sure it’s not something I’ve always managed perfectly. But I do feel it is so important for Frida to work these things out with my support rather than me always stepping in.

I try and do this by “sportscasting” (“I can see that you both want to play with that toy, but Jane is playing with it and it doesn’t look like she is finished with it.” or “You were playing with the doll and now Milly has it, I can see how sad you are feeling”) and encouraging the children to come up with a solution themselves (“Ok so you both want to play with the pink ball. What can we do?”) or offering some options (“Shall we see if we can find any other balls? How about Peter tells you when he’s finished and then you can have a turn?”). One of my friends especially is so good at doing this, and it is so powerful!

Of course, this won’t always be enough; I don’t think it’s ever OK to let children hurt one another, and I would also not stand by if Frida was constantly snatching from another child or being grabbed from. If things are escalating, we need to step in. But I do feel that trusting our children as much as we can and empowering them to work through issues – and giving them a chance to try! – is the way to go if we want to raise empathic, cooperative children.

If you’d like further reading on this topic, I love this article “11 ways to teach your child to share“, this one “It’s mine! All about sharing” and this one “Understanding and supporting sharing“.

*Forced apologies are probably another blog post for another day! I never ask or tell Frida to apologise, as I don’t think an apology is meaningful if someone makes you do it. However, if she has upset another child I do apologise to them and their parents, and acknowledge they are hurt / upset. Here are some articles if you want to think about the issue further: here / here

Posted by:Eloise R

11 replies on “Teaching sharing, navigating snatching

  1. I found your blog last week and I’ve been reading through so many posts and I just wanted to say, I love everything! With this post, I can definetely relate to feeling embarrassed or like I’m being judged when my 2.5 year old son doesn’t share or snatches toys from other kids. It’s always hard when you’re not close with the parent of the other child. I think it’s so important to just watch closely and let kids figure things out because they are so capable! It’s not easy for me because I’m always nervous my son is going to lash out and hit (and sometimes he does!), but there have been multiple times when he and another child are able to resolve things without any interception on my part.

    What do you do when you have a play date with another parent(who’s a friend!) whose ideas are very much opposite of yours? It’s always hard for me to get through these without feeling uncomfortable at some point.

    1. Ahh thank you for the kind words! You are right, children ARE so capable. They are totally amazing. Frida went through a real pushing and hitting phase a while ago and I found it incredibly stressful, so I can understand the nerves well. Be assured that he will almost certainly grow out of it soon. ❤️ I have to admit, most of my mum-friends have a similar parenting style to me, and it makes things so much easier. I think I would find it really hard otherwise! I guess if we were good friends I would be able to be frank about the fact that, on this issue, we are likely going to be acting in different ways. But much harder with someone you don’t know as well. Xx

  2. Love this so much! This has been a struggle for us lately any time we are out in a public setting. It’s mostly difficult because many other parents seem bent on forced sharing. When I don’t force my daughter to “share back” I feel like I’m seen as abnormal. I will usually ask my daughter if she would like to share the toy and 99% of the time she’ll say no (of course!), so then I say “well, it looks like this other child would like to play with it, so when you are done please give it to him/her”. I feel like that has helped with this situation so much. We’ve also instituted the rule that you can’t take toys out of other people’s hands. Toys laying about nearby are usually fair game, but I feel this may get trickier as the kids get older and are actually playing with all the toys laying about (ie building a block tower). They won’t obviously be “holding” all the toys, but she can’t just destroy the tower! So many things to navigate! Thanks for your wisdom and experience! (I am looking forward to you post on forced apologizing!:))

    1. Sounds like a brilliant, thoughtful approach. It is just so flipping hard when you’re with parents who don’t share the same parenting style, isn’t it? You’re right, so much to navigate! But so many learning experiences & opportunities for connection too xx

  3. Wonderful article – thank you so much :-* We will start in a Montessori Kindergarten by autumn and I really really hope, they act like you wrote it.

  4. I read the article about consent that was linked to this email…was intrigued what you said about consent and breastfeeding. I feel like I would have breastfed longer if I felt ok to say no every once in a while…not sure why I didn’t consider it! Maybe because I was so much in the “on demand” mode, from when she was a baby…

    Anyhow was food for thought 🙂

    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Thank you for sharing that. I think as mothers we often pour so much of ourselves into our children that we forget to ask ourselves what it is that we need, too. It took me a long time to realise that being a mother didn’t mean I also had to be a martyr! Xx

  5. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, smart article! I have also been thinking about this issue a lot lately and have come to most of the same conclusions as you (even though I couldn’t have put them into words as well…).

    One thing I have started telling my 28 months old daughter is that when other children come over for a visit, they won’t be bringing their own toys and will be wanting to play with hers. I make sure to remind her of this every time before guests come over, and she’s been really quite understanding of it. Also, whenever someone wants to borrow something from her, I remind her that she will get it back as soon as they are done using it. This seems to help her quite a bit – I think maybe she just needs that reminder of what borrowing / lending / sharing means…

    What I’m finding more difficult right now is how to deal with sharing now that her baby brother (8 months) has started crawling and pulling himself up to standing, thus intervening very much into her space and wanting to investigate ALL of her toys. I don’t want to take sides, either protecting her toys or him for being younger and smaller and weaker, as she often reacts to his “invasions” by either grabbing from him, pushing him away / over or even hitting him or pulling his hair…

    1. That sounds like a great approach re: play dates, thank you so much for sharing. Sibling “sharing” must be a whole other ball game though! I get a taste of it when Frida is with her 12 month old cousin. What a great job you are doing ❤️ xx

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