Home motherhood/family/parenting Teaching Children to Share

Teaching Children to Share

by Kelly Crawford


Whose game for some words about sharing? *BIG SMILE*

My children were all very grateful and gushing with words of thanksgiving about their Christmas, for which I am truly grateful.

But the new toys always triggers heightened feelings of “mine” and as a parent, I’m really searching for the right way to maneuver through this opportunity to teach the mind of Christ.

Here’s the thing…you know I’m very anti-socialist. So part of me thinks, “OK, I cannot force them to share. That would be planting wrong seeds.” But then Scripture comes to mind, “If someone asks to borrow something, give him more than he even asks of you.”

So I find myself in a bit of a quandary with the right approach. It’s easy to say, “SHARE YOUR TOYS NOW.” And force them.

But this doesn’t do a thing for the heart, which is where I believe charity must come from. The difference in socialism and charity is that one is essentially stealing (I’m forcing you to share), and one comes from your own giving, which is the essence of Christian benevolence.

So, I’m curious about the way you’re teaching this to your children. It’s always been a struggle for me. They seem to be open about the concept in a non-confrontation. But at the moment of “May I see your toy?” they forget my earlier dramatization of Bible characters and I forget that my job entails constant, laborious yet patient lessons in humanity.

But I think these lessons prove crucial to a foundational attitude that will either be laid by our perseverance to teach it, or negligence to do so. I want my children to view their personal possessions as belonging to God, ultimately, and not hold too tightly to the things of this world. (“Set your affections on things above, not on things of the world.”)

Guess I have some work to do in this area as well! This is an important one!

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Sommer December 26, 2008 - 11:08 am

I really enjoy your blog Kelly:-) It speaks often what I feel/believe but also it challenges me at times. Thank you!

As for the sharing thing, well, I have 3 children(and one on the way) and we struggle with this from time to time. I think like you in that I don’t want to force them to share but I want them to have a heart for sharing.

My toddler is a prime example of how insane this can be;-) What I usually do is…I tell them that this is so and so’s toy and before we take it we need to ask if this is okay. My elder children seem to think it is okay to just grab baby boy’s things but it is a horrible injury to have him do the same. So I try to teach them to respect each others things, but I do encourage them to share also. I will tell them perhaps you can let them play with it for a bit or look at it. A lot of it I think has to do with teaching them to respect each others’ things and space. Of course we still have our battles:-)

I’m really not sure that made any since or that it was any help..but just thought I’d share.


amy December 26, 2008 - 12:32 pm

I always pose things in questions to my children in order to get them to think and come to the right conclusion themselves. If one is not sharing I will ask, “Are you using this right now?” When they say no, I will ask, “Is it kind not to allow someone to play with your things?” When they say no I will ask, “What does the Bible tell us about being kind?” Usually by this point they answer and then turn to their sibling and say, “Here you go.”

Of course, not every episode runs so smoothly! This is the course we take though, and it usually works and helps the children grow.

Amy December 26, 2008 - 2:33 pm

Indeed! Christmas certainly does bring out the “selfishness” among us. Adults and parents, too. I just employ the same tools during the Christmas season that I employ during the rest of the year with regards to selfishness and sharing:

Not sharing starts in the heart with a selfish attitude (I think we can all agree). But where does that selfish attitude come from? I have noticed in my family that when I am selfish, ultimately it comes from a spirit of ungratefulness. I am not truly grateful for the abundant blessings all around me that God has given, so I selfishly covet this ONE special possession — or worse yet, covet someone elses’. I think that it is the same for my children — ungrateful spirit = selfishness = not sharing. So, when I see my children not sharing, I sit down and require them to begin to count their blessings — seeing and acknowledging that God has given them so very much and that this one little toy (or whatever) is just one more thing that God, in His abundance, has given. After they have counted their blessings until their attitudes are pure (and asked forgiveness from me, siblings, God if need be), then I allow them to return to play — offering the disputed item as a peace offering to the offended party, and then having the offended party return it in a jesture of peace treaty. Most of the time this works. Some days require more work than others. But, the goal is the heart. Persevero!

Meghann December 26, 2008 - 2:56 pm

That is funny you just wrote about this as I was going to blog on this topic after yesterday!

This was the topic we too as a family began to address yesterday in MAJOR ways! In the past I used to “force” them to share, which was not doing anything good in their hearts which I could tell on their faces. Plus it was usually because a smaller child was whining and I wanted the whining to STOP…thus forcing the older child to give up what the younger one wanted. We all know that does no good for either!

We decided to take the Pearl’s advice on this and so far it has been helping us. Instead of all the toys belonging to “everyone” as they have in the past…there is a definite boundary of which toy belongs to which child.

Now the children MAY NOT play with anyone’s toy, even if the other child is not playing with it UNLESS they ask first the the owner of the toy say’s yes. So far usually the owner has said yes and everyone has been very cheerful givers! But the rule is that if the owner say’s no, there is to be no whining whatsoever and the child must play with their own toy.

Of course I know this is not a perfect world…but so far this has been working better than everyone’s “shared” toys and forcing the children.

Sandy December 26, 2008 - 4:23 pm

I had the same feelings about ‘forced sharing’, that it isn’t really sharing at all, but rather socialism. And yet, I wanted them to share, because that is the loving thing to do. Also, we moms have to deal with the fact that while we don’t want to force the sharing we don’t want to listen to arguments over toys all day either. So…I told my kids that if there was something they didn’t want to share, it had to stay in their room. If they brought it out in front of everyone, they had to share. If you don’t want to share it, then don’t let me see it. This requires training the children who want their sibling to share with them, that demanding a toy be given to them is not sharing. Sometimes, an older child needs to be allowed to use something without the interference of little ones. Not everything can be done in their rooms (like crafts, too much mess.) This seemed to work fine and all of my kids are generous now of their own accord (teens). And, none of them are socialists. 🙂

Rebekah December 26, 2008 - 4:33 pm

I often find myself in the very same dilemma. I want the one with the desired object to have a heart to be willing to share, but I want the other child to show love (“Love is not rude. . .”) and not demand or even ask for a toy he/she sees someone is already enjoying.

It is a lesson of humility for both parties to learn. Both children must learn self-sacrifice and putting others first.

However, I don’t think we should wait for the child to share from his heart. We have to train them to do right, whether they feel like it or not. Just like we train them to obey whether they feel like it or not. (Just like I should obey the Lord, whether I “feel” like it or not. . .;-)

Hopefully, as they grow in the Lord, they will share and put others first (and not ask for things they see someone else is enjoying 😉 b/c it is the right thing to do AND b/c they want to honor the Lord (from their heart).

Nevertheless, it is hard to find the balance in this. I often have to address both sides of the coin when a situation arises, but I try to address these issues at other times, too, (when there is not a situation) so I can remind them about both sides of the issue. KWIM?

Good topic! I know a lot of us deal with this very often!!!

Mrs. Imperfect December 26, 2008 - 6:02 pm

Hi Kelly,

I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I will share what has worked for us!

When we had five children in the house (two are all “grown up” now), and there were toddlers as well as teens, we had a rule that when someone wanted to “borrow” a toy, they had to ask first. Of course, it is not nice to ask someone for a toy that he or she is using at the time! The person asked should always let the other person use the toy, unless it was a “special” one (there were always a few special toys, which everyone knew were special, and so when the person let you use it, you were VERY grateful!).

We also made sure to give some toys that were “group” toys, some that were individual but all based on a theme (that is, a musical instrument for everyone, or a book for everyone, etc…), and only one or two that were “special” ones.

One thing that helped us so much, was in enlisting the older kids to help us teach the younger ones about sharing – they were given a talk about why we want to share, how to model good behavior, and enlisted as “helpers” to the parents to teach the younger ones. Also, when we saw this happen, there were rewards for the older child!

A great way to encourage the kids to share, is to notice them sharing and reward them! Of course, you can only do this “after the fact”, but there are plenty of opportunities to work sharing into the holidays – baking cookies and sharing a cutter, playing a game and sharing the pieces, decorating a tree and sharing the ornaments – you get the idea.

They won’t always be perfect at it, but in time if you’re consistent and keep your eyes open for those chances to congratulate, they will most definitely get better at sharing! (My little ones are now school aged, and it is very rare when one of them won’t share willingly, and I can’t remember when they last fought over a toy).

It wasn’t always the case, of course, but if they were perfect, then I guess I’d be out of a job!

Belinda December 26, 2008 - 6:22 pm

Our 3 year old got a doll house yesterday that she was happy to let her 8 year old sister play with and with her(which she loves), but 8 year old sister did not want to contribute furniture or accessories already in her possession. What to do?

My best solution was to split them into “Play with what belongs to you”. Eventually that was very boring and they cooperated and shared.

Well, that worked yesterday anyway:)

Catherine December 26, 2008 - 9:37 pm

I don't have the answers–even after having ten kids. BUT, my husband, a wise stud of a guy, has always advocated obedience first, and, hopefully, feelings follow. However, as he also hastens to say, "Feelings lie." I think it's important for kids to share–in balance. It's a tough balancing act. Do they have to share EVERYTHING? I'm still not sure about that one, even if the only two left at home are 12 & 15. I think you pray for wisdom, and "force" sharing. Praise the Lord, with the exception of one child (and he's getting better), they're all generous as adults and college students.

See? I told you that I don't have the answers.


BettySue December 26, 2008 - 9:46 pm

I have eight children ages 17 (in 2 weeks) to 1yo. I, too, instituted the Pearls ideas and it works. Every child truly owns and controls their own toys. If they don’t want to share, Oh well. Oh I occasionally say things like “but you wanted to play with his x a minute ago. why don’t you trade for a few minutes.” or “Wouldn’t it be fun to play x with y toy with your brother.” but mostly, I don’t interfer and if they don’t want to share i don’t make them. This gives them the security that I will enforsce property rights and they will always get their toys back. In Our training at times that have nothing to do with sharing toys we teach kindness and I pioint out when someone shares with me (as my parents do occasionaly) and how I appriciate it. My chidlren seldom don’t share when a sibling asks. In fact I have to watch that they don’t share with the baby too much as she breaks their things.

I find a child who wants to play with a siblings toy to the point of whinning is being just as unthankful as the sibling that doesn’t want to share (maybe more so. they all have more than enough toys and don’t really need the siblings toys) and both need to be reminded about thankfulness. In fact, especially on Christmas, a child that “must” play with a siblings toys is not appriciating his own presents.

I don’t find it unreasonable to want to enjoy my own property for a short time without sharing when I first get it . I wouldn’t want to loan my new lawn mower to a neighbor, for example, until I had had the chance to use it a time or two. So I allow my children that. They always end up sharing in a day or two wtih joyful hearts of their own accord.

Word Warrior December 26, 2008 - 9:53 pm

We’ve just returned home from another Christmas gathering and I have enjoyed all your comments and ideas so much!

Aren’t blogs great? Like mass “mommy groups” right at your finger tips–no leaving home, hassle-free advice and encouragement–I LOVE IT!

Regina December 26, 2008 - 11:10 pm

Great post and comments!! I have young kids and what we’ve found works best is a general rule that if someone is playing with a toy, noone is allowed to take it or even ask for it. They must wait for the toy to be set down.

Civilla December 26, 2008 - 11:41 pm

We did it Betty Sue’s way, as I recall.

Mrs. Taft December 27, 2008 - 5:00 am

Kelly, making the distinction between socialist thought and a right attitude of giving is admirable. One thing that helps me to see the difference is the verse that talks about giving cheerfully, and for people to give what they can without compulsion. Socialism says no one can be more or less, so we all have to give no matter what and remain stagnant. Christlike humility says that we are glad to give what we can. All we have is the Lord’s, but He didn’t give it to the masses, He gave it to us to use wisely. So He lends us ownership of our stuff.

One thing that helps me with my kids and toys is teaching the concept of “borrowing”. This means that the owner will get it back (reassuring to small ones) and helps the borrower to understand boundaries. 🙂

Shyla December 27, 2008 - 9:17 am

We approach this more from a training aspect as well. We currently have six with another sweetie coming in April. As our oldest is only ten right now, I’m not sure how this might change in the future, but it works pretty well for us right now.

We teach our children from the concept of “if something causes you to sin, cut if off.” We tell our kids, “if something causes you to be selfish, if you love it more than you are loving your sibling, then we won’t keep it.” We teach them from the time they are really young to say, “When can I have a turn?” And the older ones know they need to give a reasonable answer. (Meaning 5 minutes, etc. but not “tomorrow.”) We do allow the older to give the smaller ones boundaries, such as “you can play with it, but you must sit at the table.” This way they are showing a willingness to share, and the little ones are learning respect for others things.

Of course there are a few things the little ones are not supposed to use, such as the keyboard, bb gun, etc. but this is how we generally handle it.

Word Warrior December 27, 2008 - 9:49 am

Continuting to learn a lot from you all and appreciate your sharing these ideas!

Someone mentioned (I think Mrs. Imperfect) praising them when you catch them actually sharing the right way. This is huge for us. Especially the little ones. “Brooks, that is exactly what you’re supposed to do. You did just what Jesus asked you to do–way to go!”

Not only do they appreciate the praise, but it gives them the tangible reinforcement of what is expected of them–“Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to do”.

I also like the idea of talking about the word “borrowing”…and teaching them to not even ask to play with something while someone else has it. This seems to be our most difficult obstacle right now.

Michelle December 27, 2008 - 10:18 am

I completely agree. This is the approach we’ve taken as well – I won’t force them to share as that is socialism. But teaching them to politely ask for a toy back (especially if it was given to that child initially), the younger brother is to give it back. If he has an attitude, he gets sent to the corner : ) It seems to work.

The Limon's December 28, 2008 - 4:58 pm

This is such a good topic…one that I have not mastered and would love advice too. But one thing that I have a question on…not wanting to judge anyone who does this…we have friends that do and I don’t understand the whole dynamics is…what is the biblical basis for training our kids on how to share? If they have their own things and they have the right to share or not…what scriptures back that up? Matt 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. We want to teach our kids to respect things and take care of them, but when they hold on to things to the point that they won’t share, then I would think there is a heart issue. We can’t take things with us, but we can teach our kids that souls are what matters…not materialism. 1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever”.
I know it’s a teaching time for our kids…we are all naturally born selfish…so if we divide the toys in our house between the kids and then leave it to them to decide whether they should share or not…that’s what I am not understanding. Are we leaving them to their own devices? Are we using the wisdom God has given us as parents to teach selflessness? Phil 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”. I know we all fall short daily, but scripture needs to be our authority.

Kim M. December 29, 2008 - 6:58 am

Great ideas!

Rachel December 29, 2008 - 5:01 pm

The Limons-

I haven’t any specific scripture to back this up, but I do believe the idea is to remove selfishness from the asker, as in “but I want to play with it.” (whinny voice). We need to teach our children that just because they want something doesn’t mean they get to have it. The hard part is not allowing the child with the toy to also be selfish by never allowing another child the opportunity to play. It has to be balance. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you get it (coveting), but never sharing is selfish as well.

The Limon's December 29, 2008 - 6:20 pm

Rachel, I agree with you whole heartedly. I was just wondering about holding on to our things so dearly that we don’t want to share. On the other hand we have the coveting issue with the one that wants the other persons thing so bad. You are so right…there is two different heart issues going on there.

I am reading “Teach them Diligently” by Lou Priolo…I’m only in the 3rd chapter….but it’s a continuous reminder to not only feed on the scriptures ourselves (we can’t teach the scriptures to our kids if we’re not being fed) but also teach the scriptures to our kids daily. Teaching and disciplining is not a fast approach…but one that takes time out of our day and one that needs to be repeated all the time. It’s not the one time moment that our kids will get it…it’s the 1,000 little moments. “It takes time to develop parenting skills. It takes time to drop whatever you may be doing and pick up your Bible to teach, convict, correct, or instruct your children – time that you would perhaps prefer to spend doing something else. And most of all, it takes time for children to grow up. There is no such thing as instant maturity….maturity takes time” – L. Priolo.

Brande Saldana December 27, 2011 - 6:24 am

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