Link copied to clipboard

Being able to share toys and snacks is a key social skill for toddlers and preschoolers. Of course, your child should learn to be polite and friendly. Knowing how to share is important.

But there are times when sharing isn’t appropriate, even though children might be asked to do so.

These seem to be sensible rules. Yet many parents on the playground seem to have other ideas. I have seen – probably you have seen this too – mothers demand that a child give up a toy to make her own child happy, without regard for the fact that child has the toy brought it from home or that there are many other equally nice toys available. Parents say things like, “It’s our turn now” or “You’ve had that long enough,” as if there were a time limit to play.


But there’s not. So long as there are other play options for other children to enjoy, there’s no reason at all for a child to give up what he’s playing with, on demand. Other children do not have a right to insist on it. Certainly their parents don’t have that right.

It makes a difference if the plaything is the only one of its kind.  If there’s only one baby swing at the playground, don’t hog it the entire morning, but give other parents and babies a chance. If there’s only one plastic shovel in the sandbox, help your child to give it up after a reasonable interval. But if there are many shovels and your child is digging with the only blue one but there are other shovels around, then she should be able to keep on digging without interruption. And without being made to share.

Naturally, if your child brings a toy to the playground and it is so wonderful that everyone wants to play with it so that it’s causing difficulties, the solution is to put that toy away. Remove the source of the problem, as a courtesy to other parents and in recognition that little children have an imperfect understanding of ownership. But even then your child is under no requirement to share.

If your child does decide to share her brought-from-home toy, then she must share it equally. She shouldn’t use the toy as a way to exert power over other children or to discriminate among them. Better to put the toy away and play with it at home than to cause outrage and sadness among other kids.

But usually the problem is with parents. It is they who express outrage and sadness when your child won’t give up a toy and their own child is unhappy. Some parents will give their children anything, even giving their children your own child’s stuff. You do not have to go along with this. Helping your child refuse doesn’t teach your child to be selfish. It teaches your child boundaries and how to stand up for what’s right.

Practice these words and step in if another child or another parent insists your child share what is his: “We brought that from home. It’s ours.” Say this with a smile and don’t back down.

When another child or parent tries to limit your child’s play with a toy when there are other toys available, say, “When we’re done with that, we’ll let you know.” Smile again. Do not give in.

And if you are the “other parent” remember that expecting something to be given up on demand isn’t sharing. It’s bullying. It’s not what you want your child to learn how to do.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

How much do you agree with this statement? The happiness of my children is more important to me than my own happiness. A little? A lot? Totally? Not at all?

How about this statement, then? My children make my life meaningful. Yes? No? Maybe?

According to a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, the answers to questions like these separate the happy parents from the frustrated ones. Happy parents live for their kids.

With all the fuss about “helicopter parents” and spoiled brats, you might be surprised. But the authors of the study aren’t suggesting that parents set no limits on their children’s behavior or become obsessively controlling of their kids’ every move. They’re not and happy parents do not. But they are saying that focusing on children’s happiness and well-being helps moms and dads enjoy their kids more and feel satisfied with their parenting role.

The study came about when researchers noticed that although popular thinking suggests children are a drain on parents, there isn’t much scientific support for that idea. So they conducted two studies with 322 parents who had at least one child under 18 living at home. In the first study, the parents were given a list of questions like the two above and also a survey that measures happiness. They found that the more strongly parents agreed that focusing on children was important and meaningful to them the happier those parents actually were.

In the second study, the 322 parents were asked to recall their activities from the previous day and describe how they felt during each one. Parents who scored more highly on child-centered thinking from the first study were more likely to report positive feelings about their day’s activities. They also were less likely to report negative feelings, and more likely to report feeling good while doing things with or for their kids.

Study leader Dr. Claire Ashton-James said, “In short, when it comes to parental well-being, you reap what you sow.” The more parents invest in their parenting and the more supportive of their children they are, the happier their entire lives appear to be.

Bah, humbug? I don’t think so. Other studies have found that being engaged in an important, challenging project increases life satisfaction. Studies have demonstrated that strong connections with others and a sense of commitment to a cause keep us getting out of bed in the morning. And studies have shown, over and over, that a positive attitude leads to positive outcomes.

So where’s the fine line? Where’s the line between focusing on one’s children in a healthy way and making everyone miserable by trying to run kids’ lives? Where’s the fine line between helping children be happy and letting them do whatever they want?

When we focus on other people and their happiness, we support their development. We guide them and give them support but we also keep them from making huge mistakes. Happy parents work in this zone between being too strict and not being strict at all. They communicate that they love their kids and are there to assist them. Not to “make them happy” or to “tell them what to do” but to assist them in growing up.

It’s a fine line, fine in every sense of the word. To have a fine life with your children, it’s a line worth walking.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.