Sharing or theft?

Beth doesn’t teach her kids to share toys, she writes on PopSugar. At her son’s preschool, each child plays with a toy, the swings or the monkey bars until he’s done with it. Then the next kid gets a turn.

(A friend) and her almost-2-year-old were at the park one day. He had brought a small car from home to play with. Another child, a little bit older, wanted to play with the car and was demanding that my friend’s son give him the car. A typical toddler scuffle ensued, and the other mother told her son, “I guess his mom didn’t teach him how to share.”

When someone asks you to share, you have the right to say “no,” writes Beth.

What about a public play space? Friday mornings, her local rec center fills the gym “with tons of Little Tykes climbing structures and those plastic cars they can drive around, tricycles, big balls, even a bouncy castle.”  Her son drove a red car, which he loves, for 90 minutes. A mother tried to get him to give her son “a turn,” but he ignored her. “There were a million other little cars for her son to drive, including one that was almost identical,” writes Beth.

I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it. And I can understand the desire to give your children everything they want; we all have it. But it’s a good lesson for you both to learn that this isn’t always possible, and you shouldn’t step all over other people to get these things.

Furthermore, this is not how things work in the real world. In your child’s adult life, he’s going to think he’s owed everything he sees. This is already happening in the next generation. I read a fascinating article about how today’s teens and 20-somethings are expecting raises and promotions at their jobs for reasons like, “I show up every day.”

I would have told my kid to try the “almost identical” car and let the other boy have a turn.

A McSweeney’s satire features Atlas Shrugged on the Tot Lot as a father explains why his daughter wouldn’t share her Elmo ball with another toddler. Read the works of Ayn Rand since birth, she’s proud of what she earned — for consistent use of the potty — “completely antipathetic to the concept of sharing.”

That’s why, when Johanna then began berating your son, accusing him of trying to coerce from her a moral sanction of his theft of the fruit of her labor, in as many words, I kind of egged her on. Even when Aiden started crying.

“Johanna shouldn’t be burdened with supplying playthings for every bed-wetting moocher she happens to meet,” he concludes.

About Joanne


  1. Sounds like her preschool has enough desireable equipment for everyone. How nice. A jungle gym to yourself. A slide. Monkey bars. Swings. Why bother to send them to preschool if you don’t want them to interact with each other? Team sports must not be in their future.

    If her kid tried that in a less affluent neighborhood, he’d get decked. No one is going to stand around watching a ball hog the entire recess period.

  2. Cranberry says:

    Kindergarten will be a rude surprise. A quick internet search turned up many guides to skills necessary for kindergarten readiness. Being able to “take turns and share” showed up on every list.

    I assume the mother will be complaining about teachers on her blog oh, about the third week of her eldest child’s kindergarten year.

  3. The mention of team sports is interesting in this context. I am a nationally certified soccer coach who spent 30 years coaching youth sports. One of my pet peeves was parents shouting “PASS IT!” to their child when the correct thing to do was usually to keep the ball and make progress via dribbling. For some reason, parents believe the child who passes is “better” than the child who keeps the ball and dribbles. Furthermore, if their little darling wants the ball and shouts “Pass it to me” (whether in position to receive a pass or not), these same parents will be upset with the other player who does not make the pass. In other words a) telling someone to pass you the ball automatically requires them to pass you the ball, and b) if you are the world’s best dribbler, you are still the world’s worst soccer player unless you pass the ball within 2 seconds of receiving it. I guess parents think passing instead of dribbling shows “team spirit”, but it is also a great way to play losing soccer. Sharing has its limits in team sports, too.

  4. I did not make my kids share their own things when we were out in public – if they brought a special truck to the sand box, they could play with it. Usually they would let other kids have a turn. At home, they could put away anything that they didn’t want to let others use, but I told them that if we invited somebody into our home and put toys in a public area, they were for all kids to use. I did make them let others have a turn on common equipment (slides, swings, a museum exhibit, etc). I also didn’t use the term ‘share’ very often, since for kids it usually seemed to mean ‘give your thing to another kid’. I did encourage them to take turns playing with/on something. This seemed to work, since it implied that they’d get another turn. Sharing was reserved for something that could be divided up, such as a box of crayons. Sometimes they’d share food, either because they had plenty or because both kids wanted to share so that they’d each have both items.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      Keep the “special toys” at home if you don’t want to share/take turns with them. My kids know that if we bring something to the park, they are going to be required to allow others to play. And yeah, I judge the HECK out of other moms who encourage selfishness in their kids.

      • That’s kind of harsh…and not what I said. I did not force them to share. I encouraged them to take turns and did not allow them to try to get other kids to give up their own toys. They also weren’t allowed to sit in a group and refuse to play with the toys as a group. But, if they wanted to play by themselves with their own toy, I wasn’t going to force the issue. Solitary activity in a public place is OK. I’d be pretty upset if I sat down with a book to read and somebody walked up and wanted me to give it to them.

  5. So true. Might as well just change the game to 2 on 2 at this age.
    We pulled our son out of kindy soccer after the coach congratulated the teammate who noticed son had successfully dribbled almost close enough to take the shot, had no opponents anywhere near, ran up, stole the ball, and missed the shot. Mr. I-dont-understand-the-game or teamwork was unable to secure a spot on a team in a league that didnt revolve around parent politics in future years.

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    We might think that justice is a mean between extremes.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s good to be willing to share.
    It’s not a good idea to expect somebody else to give up something he likes just because you ask for it–and in some/many cases, the asker isn’t going to be inclined to share it back.
    The dog in the manger is not a good idea, but neither is the ant and the grasshopper’s new version–nasty, capitalistic ants owe the grasshopper.
    Being self-sufficient is a useful skill. Either bring or otherwise provide for yourself, or be able to put up with not having it.
    Bad idea to, as we used to say in the Army, to chug your own canteen and ask for more from somebody else. It would mean he carried it, disciplined himself not to drink it all immediately, and now you want to take what’s left. He can give it, but you can’t, socially speaking, ask.
    Being an adult is HARD. Some folks never manage.

  8. cranberry says:

    On this list, “shares toys, takes turns with assistance” shows up at 3 years of age.

    Ideally, both mothers would be assisting their children to learn the basics of civilized interaction, which include taking turns. The teachers will expect children in kindergarten to be able to take turns, share materials, and play with others. It’s hard to tell the difference between the child with developmental problems, who is not developing typical social skills due to illness or disability, and the child who’s been taught not to share.

    And children do enforce social norms. The child who won’t share eventually finds himself excluded from games. After all, would you pass the ball to someone who might not give it back?

    Much of the early elementary classroom is based on social skills these days. The rise in autism and other disorders has increased the number of teachers with training in what to look for. So training your child to have poor social skills can have academic consquences.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:


      Based on the context of your remarks, I think you meant to say that there has been an increase in:

      “the number of teachers with ‘training’ in what to look for”

      I usually hate them, but sometimes “scare quotes” are useful.

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    Most interesting would be what Beth’s kid does with community resources when there aren’t enough to go around. For example: One of our local parks has an antique firetruck. Would Beth be okay with her kid monopolizing the steering wheel seat for 90 minutes because her kid got there first?
    When my child was young, “sharing” tended to fall into a few categories:
    (a) He owned the item in question and was using it. No, he doesn’t have to share.
    (b) He owned the item in question and wasn’t using it (and, obviously, brought it to a park or had guests over). Yes, he has to share.
    (c) Community item (e.g. swing) and there are enough to go around: No, he doesn’t have to “share” … the other kid can use one of the available ones.
    (d) Community item and there aren’t enough to go around: Yes, he has to get off after a few minutes.
    I didn’t pay a lot of attention, but many/most parents seemed to be following this basic scheme. I don’t remember any cases where a parent felt that my child should give up one of his toys.
    (*) There will always be exceptions, but (a) – (d) seem to cover most interactions.

    • Sounds like case e is what parent in story chose:
      community item, not enough to go around. No, he does not have to share….other kid can use whatever else is available. This is common here among those who have transferred in from big city school districts. Big PTA discussions after the last wave came…we were finding that students would like to play kickball or bball, but the area was always taken by the same set of students who would not let the others in their game. It was eventually resolved by removing the bball hoops and taking the playground balls away. This simultaneously solved the problem of what to do with the included emotionally disturbed children whose behavior was not conducive to any game. A stripe was painted on the blacktop and the children are told to walk laps if they start fighting amongst themselves. During the nice weather with the playgound open, the school aides have to direct the use of the equipment. Too many aren’t playing, they put their energy into preventing others from playing and getting negative peer attention..for ex. a kid will go to the top of the slide or jungle gym and refuse to move.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        With the red car, it sounds like there were enough to go around … just in different colors. If so, I’d say that the other kids should learn that you don’t always get the color you want. Different story if there weren’t enough cars to go around…

        • If you spend time around preschoolers, about the best way to get a whole mess of preschoolers interested in a toy is for one of them to start playing with it. And if you resolve the issue by redirecting the kid with the coveted toy to a new activity, such that another kid can have a turn, there’s a good chance that the coveted toy (no longer in demand) will be forgotten in favor of whatever new toy is brought in as the substitute — even though that toy was sitting, idle, while the kids argued over the coveted toy.

          In relation to the story quoted above, the claim that “There were a million other little cars for her son to drive, including one that was almost identical” comes across as less than genuine, given that we’re to simultaneously accept that the proposition that the red car is so special that her son actively seeks it out and values it over all of the others. If all the cars were truly equivalent, it would be essentially meaningless for mom to have her kid ride around in a different car for a while. If it’s an emotional attachment that makes the car so uniquely special, then there is no equivalent — and another kid could have that same attachment based upon whatever it is that makes the car uniquely cool. Justifying her behavior on the basis of a philosophy that boils down to, “When he’s grown up the kid who’s not getting a turn will have to deal with nasty, selfish people, so I’m giving him a valuable life lesson”, I guess, tells us quite a bit about mom.

          • Cranberry says:

            I was about to say something very similar.

            Siblings often fight over a toy. The toy they fight over can change hourly. That’s a big part of the value of having a sibling, which is learning how to initiate, conduct, and resolve disputes. Much of the value of child’s play is the ongoing debate over the rules which should apply.

        • Crimson Wife says:

          I’d say the kid who needs to learn that he doesn’t always get to have the color he wants is BETH’S kid. He had his turn on the red car, so now he needs to quit hogging it. And I wouldn’t hesitate to let Ms. Beth know that she’s being a horrible parent for allowing her kid to act like such a spoiled, entitled little brat.

          • You better be very careful when you start calling someone a horrible parent to their face.