Why We Don’t Make Our Kids Share — And Why They Do Anyway

If you have a play date with us or encounter us out in the world somewhere, you may be a bit put off by the fact that I will not insist my child shares with yours when yours is interested in whatever my child is using.  My kids don’t have to share.  If L is using a toy, that’s her toy until she is done using it.  She does not have to give it to another child until she is finished with it.


I am shocked that everywhere we go I hear other parents telling their kids to share with mine.  L simply has to look in the general direction of another child’s toy for the other parent to jump in with, “Jonny, share with that little girl!”  Why?  Why should Jonny stop his important work to give it to that little girl?


Maria Montessori’s entire philosophy of education is based upon the child working independently to achieve his own self-perfection.  She observed that young children are innately driven to be productive — working on their own, uninterrupted.  Jonny is busy developing himself!  He is concentrating and his brain is making all kinds of connections.  Why on earth would you want him to stop figuring out the world around him?


Ah, but you say he needs to learn how to interact with other people and socialize?  How to be nice and make friends?  He will.  Naturally.  That can’t be forced.  Forcing sharing brings about feelings of resentment and possessiveness.  Objects then become things to be HAD, rather than things to LEARN FROM.


When you don’t force a child to share her toys, she doesn’t feel the need to protect every possession with her life.  She will begin to share spontaneously, happily.  She will be excited and delighted to share the experience she is having and to discover new things together.


Young toddlers will not share, and they absolutely should not be expected to.  If you have ever studied child development, you know about the three forms of play.  Babies engage in solitary play.  They play by themselves, with little interest in others playing around them.  Young toddlers engage in parallel play.  They may be sitting beside another child, but they can not be said to be playing “together” — each has different aims and goals in their play.  Older children engage in group play.  This is when they are playing together with a common goal, and when they really begin to share naturally.


N is still a baby.  She doesn’t much care if L takes a toy from her.  I always tell L that if she takes something from N, she has to give her something to replace it.  However, if N gets upset that L has taken something from her, L has to give it back and wait until N is finished with it.


L is mainly in the parallel play arena, but she is starting to shift into group play.  She does not want to share.  She gets very upset when people take the things she is using.  This is only natural.  It’s developmentally appropriate for her to not share.  I never force her to share.  Not even with her sister.


Despite the fact that I don’t force my kids to share with each other, they do anyway.  L frequently notices that N wants something she has, so she offers it to her.  It is always completely internally motivated, and it brings L joy to share with her sister.  She shares because she wants to.  It is natural and pure and it makes my heart sing. She is naturally learning how to interact with the people around her.  She has not [so far!] grown up to be socially inept or a criminal.


Rather than “sharing,” Montessori employs turn-taking.  The work a child is using is not hers FOREVER.  It’s simply hers until she is finished working with it.  Then it is returned to the shelf and another child may use it.  This IS something that young toddlers are capable of doing, and that is what we do in our house.


So if you come to my house and I don’t make my child give what she’s using to your child right away, don’t be offended.  I’m not just rude.  My child DOES have appropriate social skills.  We’re just following the child over here, the way Montessori intended.

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36 thoughts on “Why We Don’t Make Our Kids Share — And Why They Do Anyway

  1. I really like this post. I found myself trying to force my lil one to share, but after reading this I see no point 🙂

  2. Amen! I don’t understand when I see people who have studied child development making their children ‘share’.

  3. This is exactly my parenting philosophy on sharing, but until now I never knew that it came from the montessori way of learning/child-rearing. I wish more parents also felt this way!

  4. Interesting . Also we are always expecting children to do things we don’t do ourselves. If I’m using my iPad , I’d consider it pretty rude of my friend to just come along and take it off me !

  5. Thank you for a great, informative post! What response would you give to a child who is done playing with a toy in their home on a playdate, but doesn’t want the other child to touch that toy? I have a bunch of 15-30 month old clients whose parents report that behavior. They usually tell their child that the other child now gets a turn, but it can end in a total tantrum. Their children react almost as strongly to losing a “future turn” as they would if the toy had been taken from them while playing.

    1. I would be firm in allowing the other child to use the toy and remind the first child that he was finished with it. I would then try to find another toy to occupy the first child. With consistency, the children will begin to understand.

  6. I really like this post!!! My son is 15 months and in the throes of toddlerhood. He often takes toys from the younger kids and he use to have toys taken from him. When he was younger, I always tried to have a hand off method and assured the other parents not to worry if their children took things from my son when he was not interested in them. My son is now taking things, and I naturally try to replace items for him for the kids. I don’t insist he share. I will also try to be more hands off in this approach.

  7. Brilliant post and feel a lot better about my toddler not wanting to share now. I constantly feel like I have to force her to share when she is engaging with a toy as its the expected thing to do but I will remember this post the next time that happens!

  8. Wow, thanks for the wonderful post! Any suggestions what to do when your child forcibly takes something another child is playing with? Mine gets rather possessive of things with wheels at daycare…

    1. I would just consistently give the toy back and remind your child that he (she?) was done using it and it’s time for another friend to use it. I would also offer your child another toy to use — if possible, something that meets the same needs as the toy your child is trying to take from his friend. For example, if he’s trying to take the Legos, offer him blocks or another building work.

  9. Oh, great post! Your points are spot on. Why does society expect our kids to automatically share if another child wants the toy? I don’t understand that thinking. And yet it’s frowned upon to not intervene and “make” the child share.

  10. There’s a time and place to learn everything. As you noted, that chronologically, there is a right time to move on from one phase of social development to the next. We can look at this from a Montessori understanding, but for those who are not familiar with the philosophy, it is a commom sensical approach to deal with such situations. While we can talk about the physical aspects of sharing or not sharing an item, there is a lot of other learning happening here that we need to observe and intervene if necessary. While making it “OK” for the first child not to share, we must also teach that child the reasons why it is okay, so that she or he grows up with that understanding and is able to communicate that for the self in the future. This way we are also teaching future generations to adopt a fair way of doing things.

    Very often, it is the adults that are more offended than the children, so in those situations, it may be worthwhile just personally explaining your philosophy to them. Not everyone will read a blog like this, so diplomatic repetitions of explanations would be worthwhile whenever necessary.

  11. huh! what an interesting concept =) I have noticed that my son is in the parallel play stage for the most part, it’s really cute to see on his “play dates”. And I definitely see that toddlers don’t really want to share haha I will keep your method in mind!

  12. This is exactly what I do as well. However, I didn’t realize it was part of the Montessori teaching. I don’t believing in forcing another child to share. Let them finish playing. I absolutely agree.

  13. Dear Angela,
    I love this article. I find that insisting that children share becomes quite exhausting for the adult. When we approach the use of materials in this way we are able to remove ourselves (the adults) as the center of attention and also as the external locus of control for the child. They are able, like you mentioned, to slowly learn to achieve an internal locus of control. Cheers!

  14. I used to work for a school with Montessori preschool, and I loved it! I definitely want both of my kids exposed to that educationally as well as in our everyday life. My son Oliver is one and Henry is due June 28th. I am interested to see how they interact with each other! Great post!

  15. Very interesting perspective! I have five children and sometimes they share willingly and sometimes I encourage (ahem, force…) them to. My two youngest are young enough that I could experiment with this approach and see where it leads. 🙂

  16. Hmmmm, I’m not sure if I agree with this, but I am very thankful for the thought and plan on pondering it some more. That’s what I love about reading other’s blogs. We may not always agree, but it gives us food for thought. Thank you for posting this!

  17. Totally agree.! Think it gets other peoples backs up a bit as it is not how they would do it but I do what I think is right for my two little people.

  18. I completely agree! The challenge arises when children hit the age of 3 or so and suddenly they realize they can or do have some amount of ownership over items. Then the snatching and collecting of toys begins purely with the intention of another child NOT using it. Even if that means they can’t play themselves because they’re too busy “protecting” their stash. My son used to be great at taking turns and sharing, but all it takes is one kid at music class or the playground to display the above activities and it becomes an uphill battle. The lesson of taking turns is a hard one.

  19. Love this! I don’t make my children say they’re “sorry” and it creates a lot of conflict with other parents. They force their child to apologize, he/she does, and then the child looks imprudently awaiting a return reply. I look at other mother and explain my daughter is not sorry, but would come find her child should she have a change of heart.

  20. I find it genuinely bizarre when my son grabs something from another toddler and as I gently tell him, “Give that back, honey, he was playing with it”, the other child’s mother says “No! He needs to learn to share!” and insists that my son keep the toy. This has been happening since he was a year old. And how is he ever going to learn not to grab things from people if the other parents are so desperate for their kids to “share”?

  21. I don’t make my kids share either. I try to teach my kids that they have boundaries that they get decide on their own about. I also don’t my kids hug or kiss grandparents or other relatives. It is up to them if they want to do that.

  22. When they do share give them the praise that sharing is caring. Having two of the same doesn’t always work because they always seem to want the one they took, have, or want. Observing is good to see what each one like most/best during Choice Time. Thank you for sharing. Blessings Always, Mtetar

  23. Thanks for writing this! This is what I’ve been trying with my 2-year-9-month-old. Question though, what do you do at other people’s houses? Often kids are so possessive of their own toys, even if they’re not currently playing with it — do you encourage the other child (the toy owner) to wait until your child’s turn is over? Follow the other parent’s lead? Have your child return the toy to the owner and then ask for for a turn when they’re finished?

    1. I would see how my child reacted to the situation. If another child took L’s toy, but she didn’t really care and quickly chose another, I wouldn’t interfere. If she was upset about it and clearly wanted it back, I would find another toy for the other child and tell him that he can use the one L has when she is finished with it.

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