The psychology of sharing, and why I don’t force my children to do it

As parents we’re responsible for teaching our children all sorts of skills and behaviours to try and equip them to deal with the big wide world out there.

One of the things that can be particularly tricky to teach them is how to share.

My view on it is that I will teach my children that it is nice to share, and I will encourage them to do it but, in most circumstances, I won’t force them to do it.

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A fair bit of research has been carried out investigating the psychology of sharing, and what is interesting is that studies have found that young children actually enjoy sharing, but only if it’s their choice and they’re not being forced to do it.

One study in particular, by Wu et. al involved groups of 3 and 5 year old children at a preschool in China sharing stickers with the other children.  One group shared their stickers voluntarily, while the other group shared theirs because they felt obligated to do it.

The study found that children in the second group shared more than those in the group who weren’t obligated to do so.

Which isn’t a huge surprise.

But what is interesting is that those who shared because they felt they had to didn’t feel happy about it.  Whereas the children who gave their stickers away voluntarily felt happier than when they kept them for themselves.

Wu explains that, “it seems that the motivation to give does count, and it also suggests that it is unrealistic to expect a very young child to share under pressure and be happy about it!”

Another study involving young children and stickers was written up by Nadia Chernyak and Tamar Kushnir in Psychological Science, and reported that children who make a difficult choice to share their stickers once were more likely to share again in the future.

So it seems that giving children the chance to choose to share makes them happier and also makes it more likely that they will continue to share in the future.

This is in stark contrast to previous findings that children who were rewarded for sharing can end up seeing themselves as people who don’t like to share.  Because they had to be rewarded for sharing, rather than it being something they do just because they want to, they don’t see themselves as ‘sharers’ and aren’t as likely to share things in the future.

The way I see it, after reading this research and just from my own gut feelings about the matter, forcing children to share really isn’t the way to go.

Of course, it’s not as clear cut as the title of this post suggests.

I won’t let my child claim the toy kitchen at playgroup as ‘theirs’ and not allow any other child to play with it.  That’s not on.  It’s not their toy, and just because they got to it first doesn’t mean they get to hog it for the whole play session.

I will sit and explain this to my child and I will expect them to let the other child play alongside them.

If we’re at home though, and Rhys is playing with one of his lego playsets, I won’t force him to share it with his sister.  That toy is his.  He is working his way through the instructions in a careful, methodical way that his 3 year old sister can’t quite grasp yet.  So I get that he doesn’t want her interfering.

If we’re outside school and Rhys has a small packet of sweets, I won’t make him give one to all his friends.  I might suggest that it might be nice if he offers them around, but I won’t make him do it.

What’s interesting though, is that generally he will do so anyway, of his own free will.  As the studies I mentioned before found, he’s realised that sharing makes other people happy and makes him happy too.

Which makes me happy.

See, my end game here is to raise children who do nice things for other people.  Not because they have to.  But because they want to, simply because it makes them happy to do nice things for other people.  And the way to get there, with sharing in particular, is to step back now and then, and let them find out for themselves how good it can feel to do it.

 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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7 Comments

  1. Acorn Books 07/08/2017 / 2:52 am

    Sharing is such a tricky thing to know how to manage but I tend to agree with your approach to it. Thanks for sharing the research too, very nteresting.
    #kcacols

  2. Helena 08/08/2017 / 3:45 pm

    This is a fantastic post. I ask my eldest to share with her sister but have caught myself questioning it. #KCACOLS

  3. bread 11/08/2017 / 11:57 pm

    I’m all for sharing things that are meant to be shared. Sweets but certain things I have bought for my kid are not to be passed around for other kids. Like his comfort doll. #kcacols

  4. Rachel 12/08/2017 / 8:38 pm

    Sharing is such a tricky thing to deal with. It’s that balancing act that I’m hoping I’ve got right with my kids. #KCACOLS

    • This glorious life 17/08/2017 / 9:48 pm

      It really is a balancing act isn’t it, and I think we’re all just sort of winging it and hoping we get it right! x

  5. Kerry 14/08/2017 / 8:14 pm

    I agree. Sharing is nice but shouldn’t be forced. I wouldn’t want my friends to come round my house and start helping themselves to my stuff expecting me to share it! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time.

  6. Amy 19/08/2017 / 9:17 pm

    My kids have shared toys and individual toys, they don’t have to share their toys, but the joint toys are always for sharing (e.g. Lego and play doh) #kcacols

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