Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

Why I Don't Make My Kids Share Their Toys

Before we head out, I round up all the sand toys, plastic dinosaurs, and squirt guns. Then I dump them on the couch, dig around until I find my stash of Sharpie markers, and label every single toy. "Broadbent," I write in the blade of the shovels. "Broadbent," I write in big black letters across the sides of the buckets. "Broadbent," I write neatly on the squirt guns.

On the belly of each plastic dinosaur, I write my sons' names. The Spinosauruses belongs to August. The Triceratops belongs to Sunny. The Acrocanthasauruses belongs to Blaise, but he doesn't want to bring them today.

“No,” he says. “I don’t want to share them.” So the Acrocanthasauruses stays home.

In my family, we have a policy: I encourage my kids to share their toys with other kids, but I don't force them to do so. If my sons aren't playing with some toys, and some kid comes up and want to borrow them, they’re allowed to do so, provided they don't take the toys too far away and treat them with respect.

But if my kids are actively playing with a toy, and another kid wants to play with it, they do not need to give them the toy. No one can take a toy out of their hands without asking, and if someone does ask, my kids have every right to say no.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

I'm not the only mom who doesn't make her children share their toys. Last month, mom Alanya Kolberg wrote a viral Facebook post in which she said she didn't make her son share his toys at all. "My child is not required to share with yours," she wrote, and I totally agree.

Basically, my sharing philosophy works like this: I put the kids' names on everything we bring out in public. If my kids aren’t using it, your kid is welcome to play with it. But if my kid wants it back, your kid has gotta surrender the prize. Because, at the end, the toy belongs to my son. It's his toy. And he has the right to do what he wants with it. It's that simple.

We don’t ask adults to share stuff they’re actively using, so I don’t see why we need to ask kids to do that, either.

Most of the other kids and parents understand this, but this policy can also cause some conflict. When kids come over to take the toys, I warn them: "You can use this until my son want it back, sweetie." But when my son wants to reclaim his Spinosaurus, drama may ensue. Kids have run away. They've thrown tantrums. But I gently remind them that they said they'd give it back, and that it's not their toy in the first place.

I think this makes perfect sense. After all, we don’t ask adults to share stuff they’re actively using, so I don’t see why we need to ask kids to do that, either. Imagine if someone sidled by your desk and said, "Hey, can I borrow your stapler?" If you’re not using it, of course you’re going to hand it over, and you'll ask for it back when you need it. But if you are using it, you'll say, "Sorry, no, I'm using it right now." End of interaction.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

That said, if my kids are using the toys, they won't give them up of their own volition. If another kid comes up to them and asks to play with a toy they are currently using, no way will they share the toy with them, even if the kid asks nicely (and especially not if he asks rudely). While I sometimes wish they were more generous on their own, I don't think that means I should force them to share with others.

My kids have boundaries, and they enforce those boundaries with the toys they’re playing with.

Once, we were at the botanical gardens when my kids started squirting each other with their water pistols. A 6-year-old kid interposed himself into the middle of the action. He tried to take 3-year-old Sunny’s water gun, and Sunny started screeching. I calmly told the little boy that the water gun belonged to Sunny, and I didn’t think that he wanted to share today, thanks. But he kept hovering around my kids, who kept having to ignore him and squirt around him. When he splashed Sunny, I was furious. My kids were clearly playing a game, which he was not involved in and was actively ruining by getting in the way. Eventually, his mom showed up and dragged him away.

I don't think the onus should have been on my kids to let that little boy play with their water guns, especially considering how rude he was to them. My kids have boundaries, and they enforce those boundaries with the toys they’re playing with.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

I want my kids to share their possessions with others. I want to teach them the value of giving to other kids who are less fortunate than them, particularly if the other kid doesn't have any toys of their own. But I also want my kids to set their own boundaries. I don't want them to hoard their toys like a baby Scrooge, but I also don't want them to feel like they have to hand them over to the ravenous hordes of children who might ask to play with them. My kids brought them to play with, and they should be able to play with them when they want to. I want to teach them the importance of kindness and generosity, but I don't want that lesson to come at the expense of their personal rights.