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Rights Are Right

March 15, 1996

A mother asks,

“How can I teach my children to share? How can I teach them to play together without fighting over the toys? They are constantly coming to me whining that someone has taken something away from them. I try to teach them they should share and be kind, but they seem to like fighting better. I get so frustrated I don’t know what to do. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I just want to get away from them. I can’t stand all the bickering.”

Another mother says:

“I have two boys, one eight and one ten. My daughters are five and two. The boys are always teasing their sisters. Anytime the girls go in the boys’ room or play with anything that belongs to the boys, the boys become very selfish. They will not let their sisters play with them and are constantly running off and making them cry. I know that there is an age difference and that the boys and girls have different interests, but how can I teach the boys to give up their rights? They are not gentlemen and sometimes just mean to their sisters. Is this a stage they will grow out of or should I start spanking them more?”

In Answer

I can see a frustrated, harrowed mother as she takes a deep breath and tells herself not to get angry. The children are closing in from every side screaming, “Mother, make him play with me; Mother, he took my teddy bear away; She’s sitting in my chair; I had it first; It’s mine, give it to me.” So she sighs and once more adorns her arbitrators gown, taking the stand to hear the pros and cons from the accusing and excusing parties. She is never quite sure she has judged fairly, and most of the children are sure she hasn’t. An appropriate family Bible verse becomes: “There is no peace saith my God to the wicked.” She is privately convinced she has the most unchristian four and six-year-olds in the Western world.

When our children begin to demand their own way and practice the “me first” philosophy, we know it is a root of sin manifesting itself. So we referee apart the clinched competitors and demand they give over their rights. We futilely sing the give-over song to the beat of their exchanged blows. And all our sincere warnings against selfishness are punctuated by screams and protests of unfairness.

Your equality-philosophy and sharing-principles haven’t worked for the same reason that Stalinism and Leninism haven’t worked. You are a Socialists dictator trying to create equality and brotherly love by the power of the court, at the point of a switch. Our own U. S. Constitution states that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Webster’s defines unalienable as “not able to convey, sell, or make over (any property) to another.” It is a “self evident truth” each human being is endowed with rights that can not be surrendered to the jurisdiction of another. Your Parental intrusion into these unalienable rights is as unwelcome as the King’s intrusion into the liberties of the Colonies. Just as in a socialists state, your children will learn to use your intrusion as a tool to get their share of the pie. You have created a welfare state, taking from the haves to give to the have-nots.

Parent, how would you feel about your neighbors or even your relatives if the government forced you to give over rights to your bed or your lawn mower? Suppose that on your day off from work you came home to find your well maintained lawnmower already in use by your careless neighbor? You say to him, “Hey, I would like to use my lawn mower if you don’t mind.” He sticks his tongue out and jeers, “Nan Ne Nan Nah Nann Nann, I got it firrrrrrst.” So do you say, “Well, I am suppose to give up my rights, and it is a law — share and share alike.” Is this how you build good relationships with your neighbors?

A parent must recognize the child’s right to private property. The child must be allowed to possess his own property as he sees fit. If his right to be selfish is not recognized, then he does not have any rights. Again, a child can not give up rights he doesn’t have. If there is a limit placed on his free use of those rights then as long as he is operating under threat of loss of property, he actually never owns the property. He then must give over the property for fear of losing it. The property is not his, and when he gives it over he has given nothing, nor has he exercised benevolence. In selfishness he gives-over for the purpose of, in some measure, retaining usage of the thing that judicially is not his.

We should seek opportunity to teach the principles of giving and sharing, but not so as to coerce them into giving against their wills. It is our desire to see our children have a benevolent heart. Forcing them to give will only rob them of the opportunity to freely give. They can only discover the blessedness of giving when it comes from their own heart.

A child whines, “Make him play with me.” When you force unwelcome associations upon your children, they do not learn to love each other. On the contrary, their despising only increases. How would you feel if you were forced to attend social engagements or spend the evening with someone not of your choosing? Would it endear the person to you if they had gone to the authorities whining of your indifference to them? When the authorities said, “Now you be sweet and let your neighbor sit in your house and gloat over their power to forcibly dominate your time, and remember you should give up your rights,” how would you feel toward you neighbor? And how would you feel about what you were doing? Would you have a good feeling that you had made sacrifices for your neighbor’s sake? No. You would be angry at everyone, and especially at the unjust authority.

There is an easy solution. Parent, put a stop to the bickering by allowing free associations. You can and should teach your children to be sensitive to the needs of others. But, as your children sense, you have no right to legislate or intimidate them into unwelcome associations. To do so will prevent them from ever having a heart change toward the other. If I see my neighbor, whom I may not particularly like, lonely or in need, I may choose to give up my rights and sacrifice my time to meet their need. In so doing, I am drawn closer to him, not made resentful.

You may ask, “But what if when they are given their liberty, they chose to never associate with the other?” I do not think that is likely, for much of the bitterness and rejection is probably from the unjust intrusion of the one who is rejected. But if you are truly recognizing the child’s right to free association then you must be prepared to allow the self imposed segregation. If it were possible for one child to dislike another so much as to never desire association then it would be better for the rejected child to not have forced association with such a one.

Also remember that the whining child, who has learned to manipulate parents into forcing the other children to do his biding, is of all children most despised and rejected by the others. Furthermore parents who reward the whining by giving them their way cultivate in the child a selfish personality that even the parents come to despise. If you are angry and bitter toward you child, consider the probability that you are disappointed in your own creation.

The squabbling over property is even easier to deal with. Parent you need to bring your children together and open a “land and title company.” Cause your children to register each possession. Every toy, chair, bed, bedroom (or corner of a shared bedroom) should be designated as the sole property of one child only. If they have common property, divide the toys into two piles and let them draw straws for their pile. Oversee a period of trading (when they exchange toys on whatever bases they may agree upon) and then seal it with a “homestead act” that assures future “government (parental)” protection of those rights.

Small children should be trained not to touch the private property of older children. And older children should be given liberty to police their own property. When an older child is free to maintain control of his own life and property around the younger brother or sister, they are more comfortable with the little ones. They are then free to relate to their fellow siblings more as a guardian and guide rather than as a competitor or victim.

No one has ever settled on my land or tried to manage my personal property because there is no question but that the government guarantees my rights to private property. It doesn’t matter who got there first or who was playing with my lawnmower first; if I can prove it is mine, there is no contest. There will be less resentment and feelings of unfairness. Your children will like each other better, if they are not forced into a communal living.

If you will function as a government should (to protect rights, not redistribute them) then your children can relax their vigilance to grab and tightly possess. It will end the mad competition to get there first and hold on the tightest. It will be the end of argument. What is there to discuss? All property goes to the owner upon request, regardless of the circumstances. When Johnny whines, “He took my truck,” instead of trying to reconstruct the squabble, you can simply say, “It is his truck. Give it to him.”

Furthermore, where you have seldom seen your children give-up anything, under the private ownership policy, you will see individual acts of sharing begin to take place. When your children discover the good feeling of giving and the mutual benefit of sharing, they will begin to practice it at least as much as you do. By making this switch in your tactics, by giving up the socialists power play, you will come to rely more on teaching and example. It should increase your awareness of your duty to exemplify in word and deed the Christian graces you seek to instill.

Not until their heart is renewed by the Holy Spirit will they ever truly give out of pure love. If you allow them the free choice and God endowed liberties that are theirs, they will then, and only then, be free to develop morally in this area. Make a commitment to trust to your teaching and example, not to the legislation of “Big Brother.” The curtain came down in Russia. It might as well come down in your home.

Leave a Reply

20 comments on “Rights Are Right”

  1. What about the bickering over who sits by the window (or by the baby, or in the front seat, or some other choice seat) in the family vehicle? Do you recommend assigning seats?

    1. My kids are still younger (age 9 down to 2) but the older ones are still in a booster seat. Each booster seat is set to each child's height, so as a result they do have assigned seats in the van. As they get older, we will still have assigned seats, but switch things around every six months or a year or so. But we have kiddos with different personalities that don't always mix well together on long car rides, so we will switch assigned seats up but still keep some of those kiddos separate from each other.

  2. What a great article! I am excited to begin the division of personal property between my children and giving them the vision to share out of love for one another. I think they will respond very well to this! Thank you again, Pearls. I love your practical wisdom!

  3. My 3 girls are all two years apart (2,4,6). They all enjoy similar toys (dress up things, puzzles, dolls, food sets, etc) How in the world is a Mama to divide up all the tiny things in the house? I can see this working for Leappads and tricycles, etc. But do you never buy a toy knowing that THEY will like it? And teach them communal property? This prepares them for school, nursery or pre-k where the things are shared and not personal property.

    1. Hi Lisa, the key is to make negative behavior counterproductive, and reward positive behavior. In the case of "communal" or "family" toys, since it does not belong to any one person, they should know that the requirement is to play nicely with it together. If this turns into an "But I had it first!!!" ordeal, remove the toy from them and let them know that the consequences of not sharing things (when they don't even belong to them) will be that no one gets to play with it. The goal in teaching kids to share is not to reduce it to a set of rules, but rather a mindset/condition of the heart. Therefore, when a child has outgrown a toy, but has a younger sibling that would enjoy playing with it, they should have a heart that says, "Here, I want you to play with this! Hey, let's play together!" These articles here may help too: and

  4. That was the best article on sibling rivals, I think I have ever read.
    Rachel, what about one of those label makers, sold for business?
    Although that will still involve some stickiness, it will also help
    guests to see who that belongs to, and maybe ask before touching.
    We had a local phonics school here, who asks parents to all contribute
    $25. of paper, crayons, etc, so kids who had parents on welfare or in
    poverty could play along also. While some parents on disability alone
    gave their child all the needed supplies, then had them taken by the
    principal and put into their supply room, some parents gave nothing,
    just as selfishness. It was a mess. I don't share my car with all the
    neighbors, except an emergency. My car has to have a license plate
    number, so everyone knows, that is my car. Can you imagine for just
    a moment, no license plates? What chaos that would be. LOL

  5. This makes a lot of sense and, to the point that I have been able to set individual property, it works well.

    As dad of a now-blended group of 8 kids, I resolve squabbles over the shared toys, however. One kid got a set of Legos that was exclusively his ... but the other Legos have always been share-and-share-alike. With more kids wanting the Legos or Lincoln Logs or whatever ... there's more squabbling.

    How do you handle such sets that are not really suited to exclusive use?


  6. I would encourage you to not leave out the concept of stewardship before God. At the earliest possible age when a child can understand, he should be taught that his "rights" and "possessions" are not really his at all. They belong to God as they always have and we are stewards to administer them wisely according to His heart and will. That is the basis for children (and adults) to show love, understanding and unselfishness in their dealing with one another related to their "rights" and "possessions".

  7. This article was so timely as it came to my inbox today. I have been that mom described here recently, frustrated and angry because of the (seemingly) constant bickering. Thank you for this great wisdom. I can't wait to teach and train my children in this area with this new approach.

  8. I have a question. What happens when it’s time to clean up their rooms or their playroom? Or for instance do laundry. Right now my 9yr old has a chore to pick up everyone’s laundry basket and put it in the laundry room baskets. But he always complains about taking his siblings laundry to the laundry room because it’s not fair, it’s not his laundry. I would like our home to be a place where we all work together to take care of it regardless of who made the mess. But how can my child have ownership over his toys and clothes but not have to take care of them or clean them up? How does that work with a 1yr and 2yr old?

    1. Hello Kari,
      Great question! We received several similar questions and will be discussing this issue in-depth in a future magazine issue. But in the meantime, we love this solution that a family in our community with 10 kids came up with! Each child has a designated, age-appropriate job through which they serve each other and their family. Be it laundry, dishes, preparing lunch, keeping the bathroom tidy, etc. they are learning that they are valuable members of the family, and to serve each other through these capacities. Mike wrote an article addressing the "It's not fair" mentality, and noted that when a child complains of something not being fair, he is "being covetous, as seen by the fact that they never complain when they are on the receiving end, only when they are left out." Here's the link to the rest of the article:

  9. Okay I have a question? I love this article as I am dealing with this very thing! I have a 2 year old and my cousin just moved into our house with his 4 year old daughter. They came out of a very rough situation and God is working on his life majorly! I keep his daughter while he works, so the 2 girls play together all day. She has minimal everything. Not a lot of clothes or toys in comparison to my daughter and she is constantly tattling on my 2 year old for taking toys out of her hand. She barely has anything(the 4 year old) Before I read this I thought making my daughter share was the right thing to do. Now I am totally confused. Please help!!! Outside of God and my husband, my daughter is the most important thing to me and I want to train her the right way God intended. What direction should I go in.

    1. Hi Kayla,
      Thank you for your comment! Debi will be addressing this issue in-depth in a future magazine article, but for now, she asked me to write you and advise you to give the 4-year-old some appealing toys of her own. Give them opportunities to share, but also respect the rights of personal property. Here is another article that deals with the issue of sharing:

  10. This is great but what happens when you have a younger sibling that’s always willing to give and to share but the other sibling is not .. this was working for us till we had #3 who is very giving but you get and could not understand why her older siblings would not share .. her giving was never conditional or with expectation but after a while my older kids would gladly take take take and still maintain very strong boundaries around their possessions .. we had no choice but to intervene .. we are still not sure that we’ve made things better but I’d love to have feedback on how to apply this under this circumstance