Why Your Child Doesn’t Share

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: Our neighbor’s child happily shares everything, but our children don’t. They don’t share with each other either, and every piece of a treat becomes a fight. How can help them see the gift in sharing?


Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort


In one of my workshops, a mother summed up her childhood experience of sharing by saying: “Every time I got a candy, I had to share it with my sister. Mom said it was nice to share, but I was sure it was bad because I was always left with half the candy.” Whether sharing food, toys, or the use of the slide, the result of adult-directed sharing often leaves a child with a sense of loss or a diminished experience — and not with joy. Children’s authentic generosity shows up in areas that we often don’t notice or don’t approve of. They assume that guests can stay forever and don’t see why they should leave and they see food in every home as their own. They share clothes and beds easily; they love giving gifts, hugs, and love.

Children are generous, and they also like to keep certain personal things and experiences to themselves, just like adults. Therefore, I use the word “sharing” to describe what adults wish that children would share.

There are children, like your neighbor, who seem happy to share toys or food with another child. This can shake your confidence in yourself as a parent. However, you did nothing wrong. With rare exceptions, children who share everything “happily” are doing so to please their parents and live up to expectations. The mother who recalled hating to share never told her parents how she felt. When sharing her candy, she was feeling intimidated, not generous, while the adults around her saw her as loving to share.

We Don’t Share, So Why Should They?

It does not take long for children to discover the cultural code “I am what I have” and “No one should take what is mine.” This lesson is spelled out everywhere: the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the homes we dwell in, and the financial intent behind so many of our actions. When someone touches our car, it honks. The police comes if someone tries to take our money or take anything from our home. We sign fat piles of papers to prove this house is mine, not yours, and we are devoted to protecting our possessions.

We live in a society in which we are defined by what we own and we don’t often share it or we share it only within our own family and community and based on our personal choices. Owning gives us power; it is up to us who to give to. Likewise, children want to choose freely what, when, and with whom to share, based on their evolving sense of identity as related to owning. You would do better to respect your child’s preference to share or to keep things to herself. The ability to give up something for the sake of somebody else is not yet developed in a child, and it won’t develop by being coerced into it.

Keep in mind that the child is learning from our ways, not from what we say. Therefore, “share with your cousin” teaches two things:

  1. Tell others what to do regardless of what they feel and need. (You are telling your child.)
  2. Ignore your own preferences and follow instructions.

How to Respond

These qualities are not what you wish for her to learn if you want her to be confident and authentic. Causing a child to do things she is not ready to do of her own volition does not get her there sooner. On the contrary, she might cling and yearn for what she missed for much longer while being confused and inauthentic. Therefore, when a child has a need to own and to keep things to herself, it is best to trust that this stage is vital for her growth. Instead of pushing your child ahead of her readiness, protect her dignity. Your generous trust and support of her choices will provide her with the ground on which the joy of sharing grows.

Before friends come to play, ask and listen to your child’s needs regarding her toys and help her put away toys she would rather not share. She may want to share some things on her terms; discuss with her how this would work. You can also make a generous offer:”Would you like me to buy another box of legos for use with guests?” When friends arrive, respect your child’s choices. To the question, “How come Lily doesn’t share her bike?” you can respond with, “It must be very important to her. I can see how much you like it, yet we are going to respect her choice.” Provide empathy and information about available toys, while trusting the visiting child to resolve her own dilemma. If she is expected to share in her own home, your words could validate her unexpressed need to protect her possessions.

As for food, it is easiest to offer generous quantities that allow everyone unlimited amounts. However, when given a treat to share with a few, children often divide things fairly. What’s unfair is to give one child a candy and then expect him to give part of it up. If a child receives a treat in a party that her sibling did not attend, she needs not share it unless she chooses to do so of her own free will. You can offer something else to her sibling or, in the absence of a treat, give empathy. There is no need to save children from experiencing living with others, only to respond with compassion.

No Ownership

It is possible to raise children with reduced emotional charge in regards to o’wnership. Buy fewer things and declare that things belong to the family rather than to an individual. Ask family and friends to express their love with quality time, rather than material goods, and do the same yourself. In addition, avoid using “its mine” or “its his” as a reason why the child cannot have it. Instead, focus on the nature of the item: “It can break,” “It isn’t safe,” etc.

Notice how you teach not to share, and change it in you. Your child will then have a teacher of generosity.

17 thoughts on “Why Your Child Doesn’t Share”

  1. Thanks for writing, I very much liked your newest post. I think you should post more frequently, you evidently have natural ability for blogging!

  2. What about when the item isn’t theirs but they don’t want to share? We were at Steiner playgroup last week and my 2.5 yr old daughter was refusing to let anyone else play with a particular toy she liked. When one boy insisted on trying to play with part of it too, she just wen crazy with possessiveness, convinced it was hers and getting absolutely distressed as we ended up having to just remove the toy in question (a colored wooden rainbow in pieces). I tried to validate how much she loved it but also to reinforce that it’s for everyone to play with and we need to play together/share it. The distress went on for a long long time – she was tired after a late night to make it worse, but still the situation might come up again…

  3. This is so nice. It feels unnatural when people are always making their child share with mine. Is there a way to post this to my facebook?

  4. I believe Kalika was asking for a facebook share button to be added to your website, not for permission to advertise for your website, because sharing links with your friends doesn’t require copyright permission.

    You can find the button here: http://www.facebook.com/share/

    It also wouldn’t hurt to add the Twitter button while your at it.

  5. Nicky, I work with toddlers (18-36 months) in a group environment. At this age, it’s totally appropriate to tell other children – and adults if necessary – that right now, your daughter is playing with this toy, & when she is done, they may have a turn (even if your daughter’s turn seems to go on forever). It may help to have a toy similar in function nearby to which you can redirect other interested children.

    Kids this young don’t really understand sharing, & as the article states, those who share are doing it out of intimidation by adults. Forcing your child to stop what she’s doing in order to give the material to someone else is going to distress her. She is not alone in this, & there’s a good reason why. There is crucial brain development going on right now, & when a child forms an attachment to a certain toy, she is provided a great opportunity for expanding concentration for longer & longer periods of time. Her emotional reactions are protective of this process.

    The flipside, of course, is that when she wants toys other children are using, the same rule applies. She may choose another toy until that one becomes available.

    Save the sharing lessons for another year or two. Better yet, let her discover it on her own after watching your behavior & that of older kids. Trust that she will get it, & protect her from interference in the meantime.

    Hope this helps. 🙂

  6. My question is what about situations where a child is playing with toys and the other child then wants to grab every toy out of their hands and yells “Mine!” (even when it is not theirs). Basically not allowing the other child to play with anything. Another example would be hording – there are 10 tiny dinosaurs and the child must have all 10 and the second child is very interested in her play and wants to join but she won’t allow her to touch any of them, to the point of covering them all so that even she cannot play because she is so busy protecting them?

  7. Great article – validates a lot of what I ‘thought’ I knew but was contrary to what I was seeing others do! As stated by others here, young toddlers don’t understand ‘sharing’ and Naomi Aldort does a wonderful job explaining how directing them to share teaches: “1. Tell others what to do regardless of what they feel and need. (You are telling your child.)2. Ignore your own preferences and follow instructions.”

    I wonder how many of the parents I see telling their little ones to give up their toys in the name of sharing would hand over THEIR belongings to me just because I wanted something of theirs! 🙂

  8. Thank you for writing this 🙂 this is the same way I view sharing but others don’t seem to get it. My mom gets really upset with me that I don’t make my oldest daughter (almost 3) share with her sister (almost one) Sometimes she shares and sometimes she doesn’t and I don’t see it as a big deal when she doesn’t. I taught her that if her sister wants to play and she doesn’t want to share then she just needs to help the baby find something different to play with, and then take her own toys to a table or somewhere else the baby can’t reach them. Most of the toys were hers long before her sister was born and I do my best to respect that she doesn’t always want to share her belongings. I don’t always want to share what is mine either!

  9. I was surprised to see my son share with other children when I have never made him share. He is 2 years old and usually shares without a problem, despite never being forced or encouraged to share, reprimanded for not sharing, or praised for sharing. I think some kids just share more willingly, while others tend not to. Nothing wrong with that. As an adult I have things I don’t share, and things I do. I usually don’t mind sharing at all, but of course there are limits. I’m not going to let a stranger borrow my car, for example.

    My son is an only child, so his only experience with sharing has been to see my husband and I share. I am not sure whether that has influenced him, but I would guess it has. 🙂

  10. Athena, with my own toddler, I tell her that they are toys for everyone and everyone needs a chance to have fun and can she choose a dinosaur (well, with us it’s usually the trains) for the other kid?

    It works for us, since she’s generally pretty agreeable about that. Unless she’s tired/overwhelmed, in which case I scoop her up and we move on. Because if she’s not up for reasoning like “everyone gets to play” she’s going to completely lose it soon and really just needs hugs.

    I actually stopped going to a playgroup because another mom thought I should force my daughter to share. She felt grabbing toys from children was an appropriate way to model behavior. So we aren’t going there anymore so I don’t model violence.

  11. I’m so glad I came across this article! I am not alone! My little one doesn’t always share with my sisters son who comes over every other day, and I just give my nephew other toys…so I’m glad I got this perspective! Makes sense

  12. Dear naomi, how do you teach your child not to feel pressured by other adults who are not mom. I was often scolded by teachers parents of other kids and forced to share so i would wish the same treatment to other kids that they would be scolded to share things too(class notes for example-but they wouldn’t bc they were taught not to show things that could benefit others.) I would often give money to strangerss who looked either needy or threatening when they needed bus fees. So my childhood and teen years were marred with insecurities about my own character and confusion about ownership.(plus panic for situations when there is some kind of trade) How do you teach your children to not be swayed by other pushy adults while being comfortable in their choices?

  13. The real source of the difficulty is that your child reacts based on your reaction. I will attempt a summary of the issues to work on:

    Your child takes what others say to him as seriously as you do. He is your mirror. And he responds based on your emotions. If you seem emotionally swayed by others, so will he. If you think that his feeling are effected, he will then be affected. In contrast, if you do not seek approval, you will know how to be and what to say to make it clear that he should only listen to his own heart.

    Here are some pointers:

    1) A child who is not old enough and self-directed enough to be able to stay rooted in himself when others don’t approve of him, should not be left with others without your presence, or should stay with respectful others that you have chosen carefully. Stand up for him.

    2) Work on your own inner strength. When what others say to you or to your child won’t take you away from your confidence, your child will follow your model.

    3) Avoid praise and rewards; these indoctrinate a child to seek the approval of others.

    4) Respect your child’s choices so he always learns, “How I feel inside is right.”

    5) Avoid teaching your child to act based on what you or others say, when it contradicts his inner voice.

    When you learn the above, your child will follow and you will know what to do or say when he is confused by other people. Things that can help are: “I know, they tell you to share… what matters is what YOU tell yourself. Do that.” Or if you are present when an adult patronizes your child, you can say to your child, “This person wants you to share, it is just the way this person is. You don’t have to share. It is always your decision.” Or, “I can understand. It can be confusing. That’s why always listen to yourself.”

    Last: Give these other adults a copy of this article and this response. Maybe it will bring a new opening.

    With love,

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