Why We Don’t Teach Our Children to Share

Why we don't teach our kids to share at play dates.  And what we teach them instead.

Think back to your most recent play date with your little one and his friends.  How many discussions did you have with little Jimmy and Jane about “sharing” their toys?  And after each reasoned discussion were you quite sure you would never have to have that conversation again?  I mean the logic of a fourteen month old is such that, once explained, the concept of sharing is rather appealing, isn’t it?

Uh…I don’t think so.

If this were the case there wouldn’t be such an argument over a certain spot of land in the Middle East, right?

Let’s face it: sharing is over-rated!

When our oldest was very young, she would have play dates with her friends in which this situation would happen: She would be playing with a particular toy and friend #1 would come along and take it from her to start playing with it.  She would take it on the chin and then grab another toy to play with it for a few minutes.  Then, friend #2 would come along and take it.  She had no problem just going and getting another toy.

But then the possessive switch flipped in her head.  Suddenly, she was upset at the thought of a so-called friend grabbing her toy and taking it for himself.  She wasn’t going to take it!

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We came up with a solution.  No, not the “sharing is caring” solution you read about in the magazines on parenting.

We taught her to TRADE!

I imagine you know what I am talking about here.  But to define it in toddler speak:

Before Johnny takes a new toy from Jane, he has to negotiate a trade.  He has to pick a toy he no longer wants to play with and offer it to her in trade.  Then she has to accept the offered toy and agree to give the toy she is playing with to him.

By the way, I DO use the phrase with my older kids, “You need to negotiate a trade.”  Not when introducing the concept to them, but later, once they have a vocabulary and experience with trade.

When I first introduce trade to my kids, I simply say, “If you want to play with her toy, you need to trade a toy with her.”  And I physically help to show them how to trade.  I help my toddler find a toy he is no longer playing with and and help him to offer it as a trade.”

This works more than you think it will.  Try it!!

The Benefits of Trading for Toddlers

The benefits were wonderful.  Tantrums solved, every tot happy with a toy.  Life in toddler world was wonderful again.  And here is why I think it works:

1.  Each child still has something to play with.

Even a baby can recognize equality.  When you ask a child to give up what she has and watch someone else get all the enjoyment out of it, she are not going to get it.  But if you tell your tot to trade, she sees (visually and physically) the merits of the situation clearly: she still has a toy!

2.  Trading staves off boredom.

There is an immediate switch to a new activity without the lag time that can create boredom (which leads to tantrums).  Each child suddenly has something new to do without having to discover it for himself.  It is a boredom buster for both kids.

3.  There are enough toys to go around.

Even if you have a few toys, children can trade them endlessly and find new life in them each time they trade.

How long to trade

Don’t get the wrong idea.  We are going to teach our children to share and be generous givers as they get older.  But this works for the earliest stages of friend play, especially during parallel play.

We taught the concept of trading to our oldest when she was less than a year old and she got it almost immediately and happily traded with us all the time!  It also facilitated tantrum-free play at play dates with children of a similar age.

We have continued to use this concept of trading with all our kids with good results.  We introduce it before the idea of taking turns.  When our kids started to understand the bigger concepts of turn-taking and sharing, even giving generously, we have reduced the amount of times we suggest a trade.  But we seem to have little ones always underfoot; so trade has been come a lifestyle for us!

I know this is a bit of a different parenting strategy.  What are some of the unorthodox ideas you have come up to teach your kids and keep the peace around the house?  I would love to hear from you!

Why we don't teach our kids to share at play dates. And what we teach them instead.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Jen Fischer

    I agree – the term and concept of trading is so useful for kids, I know this all too well since I have a 3 year-old and 18 month old. If we did not trade all the time, things would be a nightmare!

    1. ussleah

      Definitely: in the toddler world sharing is for suckers!

  2. Mum of One

    What an interesting idea. My 2.5 yr old boy is really not the best at sharing. I will give this a try, you may just have made my life a whole lot easier! Thanks so much for sharing with the pin it party. I have pinned and shared.

  3. Faye Carlisle

    I love this concept of trading. Found you on Monday Pinterest party.

  4. I love this idea and have heard of similar before. Children of that age don’t understand what ‘share’ means and although my son is not old enough yet, I was always going to focus on the concept of “taking turns” and I think the concept of “trade” is perfect.

    Thanks for linking up for Mummy Mindays.

    1. ussleah

      Hi Eva, Yes I think kids can see equality better than generosity at this age much more. We are still using this with our toddler and now moving baby. It works!

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