Spend 10 minutes with group of toddlers and you’ll soon hear an adult admonish, “You need to share!”

Little ones routinely offend social norms: They don’t ask. They grab. They whine. They impressively arch their backs when they don’t get something they want. These behaviors are offensive to us sensible adults! So, to help them become socially adept, we teach them to share.

Sharing has become the pinnacle of virtuous toddlerhood whereby all children get a turn, there are no tears, and peace is preserved. And since no one wants to be the guilty parent with the offending child, moms and dads routinely apologize to their child’s playmates (and caregivers) on behalf of their unsharing tot. Their words are layered with more than a hint of parental shame: She’s not good at sharing. We’re working on it.

And work on it we should—perhaps by considering that forced sharing is not the way to go.

Some parenting bloggers and authors have begun to question our instincts on sharing. Psychologists admit that forcing young kids to share, or even mandating that each child have a turn with an object, “actually delays the development of sharing skills.”

I want to raise children who are generous and reflect God’s generosity with us. I’m certainly not advocating a morally empty, child-centric upbringing, motivated by a desire to keep my kids away from disappointment or conflict. Yet I have resisted admonishing my toddlers to share. Why? Because I believe that we might make more progress toward raising generous and selfless children if we thoughtfully consider the appropriate developmental stages for such lessons.

Before they are 3 or 4 years old, children ...

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