Abundance and sharing: How children learn to be generous

Published by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2013 at 09:16 AM

After reading my posts on abundance, a few people asked:

If we provide children with more materials, will they still learn to share?

Here are my thoughts.

Too often, we concentrate on teaching lessons through negative means: forcing children to apologize (often after putting them in a Lord of the Flies situation in the first place), forcing kids to share stingy resources, and so on. Then we tell ourselves that they’re learning necessary lessons about how to treat others.

In reality, generosity is more likely to produce a generous person. Stinginess is more likely to produce a child who is hell-bent on getting his fair share.

Demanding that children share ignores their feelings and does not truly teach them to share. It more likely teaches children to feel angry and resentful toward adults and to believe that sharing is always accompanied by emotional pain. The irony of sharing is that when children know they are not required to share, they are more likely to do so! — Teaching Children to Share

Will children raised with abundance learn how to share?

When we buy more butterfly nets or more wooden trucks, we aren’t focusing on abundance just to stop children from squabbling. We are investing in abundance (by making thoughtful choices) in order to allow the children to do more.

Instead of sharing wooden trucks, they are now sharing ideas.

Instead of sharing butterfly nets, they are sharing butterfly-catching strategies.

Children will still learn to share, because to do anything with others requires cooperation, collaboration, discussion, identifying and solving problems, and on and on. The point is to get to this richer area of learning that is completely blocked by an initial lack of abundance: not enough time or materials for the children to do anything meaningful or complex, for them to work together, for them to focus on something more important.

It doesn’t work to use punitive measures to teach children to be loving, kind, generous, compassionate, empathetic. In order for children to develop these traits, they have to grow up being treated in a loving, kind, generous, compassionate, and empathetic way. Whatever you want your child to develop within himself should be a big part of his environment.

We are so used to the idea that children must be forced to share, forced to apologize, punished for disagreeing, and so on, that we lose the opportunity to help them develop strong emotional intelligence, self-awareness, generosity, compassion, kindness, cooperativeness, and so on simply by raising them in a peaceful environment that focuses on doing meaningful work.

Please understand me: I am not recommending that parents ignore their children’s bad behavior and let them do whatever they like. I am recommending that you embody the traits you would like your child to develop. I am saying that focusing on abundance creates meaning and purpose — it allows your child to stop hyper-focusing on who has what and how much is left and who’s turn it is and move into a much richer area of making, doing, talking, sharing, extending ideas, helping, solving problems, and teaching.

Decide which areas of your life are important and worthy of investing in and creating abundance. Decide which areas of your life are less meaningful and simply stop investing your time and money there. Children absorb so much from how you live and the choices you make. Be thoughtful about those choices. Simplify your life in a way that shifts your resources to your deepest values.



Comment by kirstenf on May 28, 2013 at 11:45 AM

You always manage to put in sensible, thoughtful writing things I feel instinctively but don't always trust. I read what you write and think "YES! That's it! That feels exactly right to me and that's exactly the way I *try* to behave with my family." It all sounds so sensible and right. But ... it is quite different from the way most people do things. And it is taking the long view. Demanding sharing and using star charts gets much quicker results! I like to think that it's better to take the long view than to go for quick wins. But it is daunting. Do we really know that this will work??

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2013 at 01:41 PM


well, maybe sometimes you need a combination of quick wins and a long view. :)

i am confident it works because my own children are teenagers now (!) and because i was in charge of a small school full of children for several years. so i have some experience under my belt. ;o) but i can see how a parent with small children might waver!

i do think you can see results fairly quickly, though. for example, when you have a limited material in the art studio (say, a small jar of buttons), children will go bananas fighting over it and trying to use it all up themselves. if you’re careful about adding materials slowly and then replenishing them as they’re used (and it helps to start with cheap, plentiful materials like popsicle sticks), then children calm down. they trust that as they use things up, they’ll be replaced. they stop focusing on the material and instead focus on what they can do with it.

similarly, i’ve had students at school who joined us exhibiting inconsiderate behaviors. once they began to trust that the adults weren’t going to allow them to behave that way — and no other child was going to be allowed to treat *them* that way, either — you could see them gradually change their behavior at school. they accepted that the rules were trustworthy; they supported everyone. you could almost see them visibly relax. but it does take time to build that trust.

of course, it’s not a magic spell and small children go through different stages of (sometimes challenging) growth … and children are born with different temperaments, as well. but in general, i think it holds. :)

Comment by kirstenf on May 28, 2013 at 03:44 PM

You're so right, Lori. I just need to have confidence in this!

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 28, 2013 at 04:27 PM

i’m here to support you. ;o)

Comment by dawn on May 28, 2013 at 08:13 PM

i have found a phrasing that seems to work well with my almost-six-year-old son who sometimes struggles taking turns in a scarcity situation. rather than stating, "it's so-and-so's turn now, please hand the _____ over," i ask him to "please let _____ know when it's his/her turn." it often results in his polite offering of the desired object, and in rather quicker fashion than one might expect. i think that by allowing HIM to be generous in sharing by doing it on his own, rather than having him simply acquiesce to my directive, which makes ME the generous one, helps him see others' perspectives and recognize that he has the opportunity and the ability to share in something enjoyable with them.

Comment by kirstenf on May 29, 2013 at 04:18 AM

Yes! I definitely find that that works better with mine too. It's that whole idea of forcing them to do something and they automatically (and naturally, understandably) resist. Whereas if we give them the power to be generous, they are much more inclined to do it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2013 at 07:36 AM

very nice! :)

Comment by Leah on May 28, 2013 at 08:18 PM

Yes, yes, yes! I see with my toddler twins that they happily share with each other as much as they can fight over a toy, and negiotate trades. I don't need to hover hissing "SHARE" into their collective earholes in order for them to be thoughtful I just need to keep an eye on toys being ripped from hands when they weren't done.

I was at the doctor's office last month and there was one other toddler (slightly older - closer to two) in the waiting room when she headed to the play area she was closely tailed by her parent who kept telling her to share. Who she was meant to be sharing with confused me as my kids weren't in the play area; they were clinging close to me as they don't like the doctor's office. So instead of letting the little girl play, and then perhaps my two would have trotted over to play on the mat as well the little girl was obediently marching over to my twins with random toys in her hands. My twins were v confused by this behaviour and just kept staring at her and then me. (This was of course after I'd just filled out the autisum survey putting my kids down as "normal". There they were glued to the spot refusing to engage with another girl!)

I can't decide if this is better than parents who let their kids rip toys from other kids hands or not, or perhaps just as bad.

Comment by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2013 at 07:44 AM


in each case, the parent is falling on one side or the other of the reasonable middle — they are either so hands-off they aren’t guiding at all or they’re micromanaging so the child has no room to navigate the situation on her own. there’s a middle ground (just as you described in your first paragraph) where you let the kids work it out but you intercede when they go off the rails.

it confuses me when parents just watch their children, say, whack other kids with a stick at the playground. (true story.) perhaps they’re under the impression that it’s normal behavior for children or maybe they think kids should work things out on their own. after years of running a small school i believe children *should* be figuring it out on their own — but they should be doing that in the context of a safe environment where everyone concerned knows there are adults on the edge making sure no one gets hurt and things don’t escalate. micromanage and they don’t get the opportunity to figure out how to work things out on their own, but completely ignore them and the same thing happens — children are victimized or run rampant and neither group learns how to deal with others or their own strong emotions.

Comment by Darcel {The Mah... on May 29, 2013 at 12:03 AM

Reading this post helps me to not feel so bad about all of the stuff my kids have. Even though they fight like crazy sometimes, they also get along and look out for each other. I witness them being kind and sharing with each other on a daily basis because they want to, not because I made them.

Comment by dawn suzette on May 29, 2013 at 08:00 AM

"Simplify your life in a way that shifts your resources to your deepest values."
This fits so perfectly with how I have been feeling lately. For me it has been shifting from stuff to time. Time with projects & family instead of caring for stuff.

I am always in need of a reminder that I am setting the example for these kiddos. Being generous with my time to devote to their projects and ideas is so important... Much more so than shifting around the objects of a stuffed house. Not that our house is stuffed to the gills with things but I have been finding myself too distracted by the stuff lately and I want to get rid of it. This all started with a garage clean out weeks ago! :-) I have moved into the living room, kitchen, my bedroom and closet. I even helped the kids go through their clothes bins today. Out. Out. Out. Feeling lighter and more focused with each passing clean out day. But I am not there yet.

The things I am holding on to are the art supplies. Other than a bit of organization the studio has been mostly untouched by my clean out. Your post did get me thinking about dividing up our supplies even more into separate bins so they each have access to the same stuff at the same time.

I am going to write that quote down and keep it posted. Love it!

Thanks Lori!

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