The Practicalities Of Not Forcing Children To Share And Dealing With Snatching

There have been some fantastic articles circulating recently highlighting the downside of enforced sharing, and encouraging parents to step away from this practice. However, as parents assimilate this new information, several big questions are raised, primarily to do with the day to day practicalities of raising children. When should we step in? What should we do about snatching? How do we handle a situation with strangers and their children in a public place?

Let me just start by saying, in the most natural form of parenting, adults do not get involved with sharing. Children snatch back and forth and form a hierarchy. There are the children who are the top dogs and then there are those who are at the bottom. That may work in tribal living situations (though not without sacrifices) but we do not live in tribes and this does not work in the way we live in our society. Our children are individuals and I think it is fair to say that none of us wants our child at the bottom of the heap. For children who prefer to avoid conflict, or those who find other children intimidating, it is important to support them and give value to their needs. And for all children, there are some occasions when we really should step in and get involved.

As a side note I recently read some interesting research on hunter gatherer tribes and found that in these groups, due to the constant moving and travel, the mothers space their children at least four to five years apart, and this means that in general, it is unlikely that there will be two children going through the intense toddler stage at any one time. This means that when a child is going through his “mine” phase, it is far easier for the child to be indulged, as the other children are either past that stage, or not there yet and can be understanding to the toddler and his needs. This greatly boosts the child’s self confidence and allows them to move past this stage far more smoothly.

So let me get into a few examples. There are two types of snatching. The first is very common, usually completely harmless and requires no input from us. Picture two babies playing with soft teddies. One takes a teddy from the other, holding and exploring it. The other snatches it back. The babies are both focused on the toy and when either one is holding it the other is trying to get to it. They may squeal or defend the toy, they may move away or hold up another one for the other child, but neither is actually distressed. One may give up and move on to something else, and as this child’s parent you may feel that they have been hard done by. But remember, they do not think the same way that you do. Where you see unfairness, they may feel unfazed by the incident. Be careful not to push your own feelings onto your child. If they don’t seem worried, it’s all good.

Now picture a two year old playing at home. A friend comes to play. Your toddler is playing with a particular car and the other child wants it. In recent trends both parents would get involved talking about time limits, turn taking and learning to share. But when we do this we offer no respect for our child and their personal belongings. I always say, if in doubt about what to do, think about how you would treat an adult in the same scenario. So instead of your toddler, it’s your husband for example. You invite friends round and your husband is working from home. He says hi and goes back to what he was doing, working on the computer or perhaps creating a sculpture. He is fully engaged in his work when your friend asks to use whatever tool he is using. Would you tell your husband he has five minutes left and then he has to hand it over? Would you tell him he has to learn to share? Or would you explain to your friend that now is not a good time for her to look at it, and it’s not going to be a possibility today?

Staying on track with this idea, picture this. You are walking with your friend when you spot a row of bikes to rent. You each pick one and are just ready to set off when a stranger comes over and tries to take your friends bike from her, refusing to let go. There are plenty of others but your friend has found the one that is the perfect size for her and had her heart set on it. She has already put her bag in the basket and is ready to go. Sure she could pick another one, but you wouldn’t expect her to if she didn’t want to. It would be perfectly reasonable to tell the stranger he would have to find himself another bike.

Now lets look at a similar situation but with children. You are at the sandpit and there are several buckets and spades to choose from. Your child picks one and is happily playing with it for several minutes when suddenly a child who you do not know, runs up and tries to take it. Now this can go one of two ways. It may be that it becomes just like the first example. Your child gives up the bucket without issue and gets another one. But what if you can see them getting distressed and upset? Should you let the other child take it from them?

Quite simply, no. You can let the other child know that your child is playing with this one and point out the other buckets to them. If they are stronger, and physically pulling it from your child, you can support your child in holding on to their property. If someone tried to snatch your mothers bag while you were shopping, would you stand back and watch or would you hold on to it?

What is so often forgotten in caring for children is that they are people too. They deserve our respect and our support and if we don’t step in when they really need us, how can they trust that they can rely on us?

So no, sharing is not something that we should force, sharing is a skill that is learned over time by authentic role modelling and example, not through us pushing it on our children. If you take one message from this article, let it be to see each individual situation with respect for your child and to treat them as you would a valued friend. It will all become so much simpler to figure out what your place and involvement in a situation should be from this vantage point.


Have you been caught in a situation where you were unsure if you should step in or stand back? How did you feel after the event?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

3 thoughts on “The Practicalities Of Not Forcing Children To Share And Dealing With Snatching”

  1. I think this is a really great way of looking at situations between kids. However, the tricky thing is knowing exactly who had what first, and calming down the toddler who is really intent on having something that another toddler is quite clearly already playing with, perhaps even because the other toddler had it first. I wish I had read this article before I planned to have my kids only 18 months apart. Definitely waiting longer for no.3.

  2. Sometimes my kid will hand a toy to another kid. But then the other kid’s parent will take the toy away and say something along the lines of “That’s _her_ toy.” What gives? Sometimes kids WANT to share, and I think that we forget that when we talk about not forcing our kids to share.

  3. eek, my son (almost 3) is really struggling with ‘snatching’ from his friends…usually only with friends that he knows really well…which I sort of see as a sign of a good comfortable friendship…but I really struggle with what to do when he takes something that another child already has. He snatches most of what the other child has and will hoard his ‘booty’.

    Would you hold on to the thing the other child has and show strength and support for the other child? I don’t want him to think I am favouring the other child, especially when it is his ‘property’.

    I think a little of it is to do with our parental ‘snatching’ or taking things from him that are dangerous/too messy for the moment etc. though I know the other childrens parents do this too and we have been careful to allow him to give back the object within a count to 10 time period to allow him some autonomy…

    I know this is a phase but its really tricky to traverse so I’d like to know more about what other ‘gentle’ parents are doing. Thanks..

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