Sorry But, I Don’t Want to Teach My Kid to Share

Illustration of two people fighting over a teddy bear.
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My daughter is 3 years old and we live right above her daycare, so naturally we host many playdates. Before the playdate my daughter tells me how excited she is to see her friends and show them her toys. But the second they come over something changes. As her 3-year-old peers empty out every single toy bin in the house, my daughter starts to get upset—the blue crown is HERS. That Elsa doll is HERS.  How DARE they touch BUNNY?!  Some grabbing, pushing and tantrums ensue, and I’m left feeling like a failure. We were supposed to host this super fun play date and now my daughter is marching around with her arms crossed shouting at everyone?!

Once the tears calm down, and my daughter has conveniently made a throne of all the toys from which she won’t budge, I apologize to the other moms. The kids go home, and I look at my daughter: She’s upset and I am too. These moms probably think my kid is a brat, or even worse—what if they think I’m a bad mom who can’t discipline her child and teach her proper sharing manners?!

I start to spiral and then think to myself—wait a minute. If I was hosting a dinner party and all my friends started going through my stuff I’d be a little pissed too. Could you imagine if every time you had your adult friends over they went into your bedroom and took out all of your things and tried them on?! Why do we force our kids to share? Isn't it OK to sometimes NOT share?  Well, folks, I’m saying yes. Go ahead and don't share.

I reached out to my mom friends to ask their thoughts on the subject. My friend Jen deals with this on a daily basis as her two boys ages 3 years and 20 months are constantly fighting over toys.

“The older one never wants to share with his younger brother, and I’m a raging lunatic saying, ‘You better share with your brother. You are best friends!’ That’s my strategy here. My masters in teaching techniques all go out the window, and it’s all about survival,” she concedes.

My friend Pia, another mom with a 3 year old, tells me that her kid actually really understands the whole concept of her detriment.

“He throws (literally) all his least desirable toys at his friend while yelling ‘sharing is caring’. That strategy always ends in tears. He also told me ‘sharing is caring’ when he kicked me out of my bed one night, saying, ‘I sleep with Daddy in Mommy’s bed and you sleep in mine. Sharing is caring!’”

Amen.  Sharing IS caring. But as adults, are we caring a little too much? With all this pressure on our kids to share, what if we just stopped caring? 

Flash forward a week. We’re at a another playdate, but this time, we’re the guests. The classic fight begins. My daughter grabs the prized possession of her friend and he cries and takes it back. His parents respond instantly with, “Stop that, share!” Meanwhile, in No-Shareville, my reaction is a bit different: “Hey, I get it. You love that toy, and you weren’t ready for her to play with it. When you’re ready let us know.” Everyone looks at me in shock—but then we magically have some calm, and in five minutes, my daughter gets the toy! 

Now, full disclosure—there were tantrums that happened immediately after that five minutes of calm, but hey, maybe we're getting somewhere with this whole no sharing thing!

Since I have zero early child development certifications, let’s quickly bring in a certified child development specialist’s opinion on this. Dr. Shefali, clinical psychologist and conscious parenting expert told me that as parents, we expect things from our children that a) we don’t expect of ourselves—like sharing our precious stuff in this case—and b) they are not capable of doing because of their young age. “We first need to understand that although toys may seem irrelevant to us and meaningless to us, they are not to our children. For them, these are their precious objects of fancy, much akin to our fancy purses or jewelry,” Dr. Shefali explained. It'd be like asking them not to care about something they deeply care about, which isn't fair.

Instead, Dr. Shefali offers up the Two Box Solution. The playdate strategy is simple: Create two boxes ,one for toys that are good to share with others and one that we keep only for ourselves when we are alone. “In this way, we can preemptively create a strategy of safety for our children and avoid potential emotional disasters,” Dr. Shefali explains.

I love this strategy of safety. My 3 year old feels safe when her baby doll (named Harry) is in her “Don’t Share” box. I feel safe when my underwear is in its underwear drawer during a dinner party, as opposed to being tried on by all my friends. So maybe let’s all drop the “sharing is caring” routine and just do what makes us feel safe, because in this case—it’s not sharing.

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Freelance Writer

A UCB writer and performer since 2010, Anna Callegari was raised in Chicago and graduated from NYU with a degree in musical theatre. You can find her most recently as Samantha in...