Your two-year-old is playing in the sandbox alongside other kids her age. “No! Mine!”, she shouts suddenly grabbing a bucket from her playmate. This is a pattern that repeats each time your toddler plays with other children.
You are anxious that your child will have no friends if she carries on with this behavior. Moreover, you are worried that your little one will grow into a selfish, possessive, and bossy adult.
However, difficulty sharing with others is a normal part of your child’s development. Understanding this is vital in teaching your toddler to share toys and in encouraging her to grow up as a generous and kind person.
What does Sharing Behavior Take?
Sharing is a complex behavior. It involves lending or giving and requires an understanding that the possession will or will not be returned later (the playmate will return the bucket later/the playmate will take my bucket home).
Sharing also involves an understanding and accepting that, while the toy is theirs, another child is presently in possession of it (the bucket is mine, but Sarah is currently playing with it).
It is important to understand that many toddlers are not developmentally ready to share. Sharing behavior takes a lot of reasoning and predicting. While they can play side by side with other kids (they are still too young to play together with other children!), give-and-take behavior takes some time to learn and master.
Your toddler’s unwillingness to share toys is a natural part of his understanding that he is the center of the world and that his possessions (especially his favorite object that he always carries with him) are an extension of himself.
His toys are something that he has control over, and therefore, something that is not to be shared with others. At the age of two, children begin to develop a strong sense of self and to understand possession, so for most toddlers sharing their belongings may be a big challenge.
Why is Sharing Important?
Sharing is a vital life skill. Sharing teaches children about cooperation, fairness, and kindness.
Through sharing, kids learn about reciprocity and mutual benefits of exchanging things.
Sharing toys teaches your toddler how to take turns, how to be patient, and how to negotiate. It also helps her learn how to manage frustration and cope with stress.
As these are important aspects of your toddler’s social and emotional development, it is important to teach your child the advantages of sharing from their earliest age.
How to Teach Your Toddler to Share Toys
Don’t worry, your child will learn to share. Helping kids master the skill of sharing takes practice and patience though. Here are a few tips on how to teach your toddler to share toys.
- Be a Good Role Model
The best way for your child to learn selflessness is to observe it. So lead by example and share things with your toddler. Offer him half of your apple, or your hat to wear, and ask if you can have his toy car. Use the word share to describe the activity and let your child see how you share with others.
- Play a ‘Taking Turns Game’
Play a ‘taking turns game’ while you’re reading books or playing together. For example, you hug her favorite doll, then give it to your toddler to hug. You brush her hair, then allow her to brush yours. You stack a cup, then she stacks another, and so on. Your child will begin to understand that taking turns can be fun and that sharing things doesn’t mean that she’ll never get things back.
- Praise Your Child’s Sharing Efforts
Cheer when your toddled shows his toys or allows others to touch or hold them, even if he doesn’t let go of the object. Praising your toddler’s attempts of sharing will encourage this behavior.
- Help Your Child Explore Feelings
Talking about feelings is the best way to help your toddler understand the feelings that relate to sharing. For example, asking “Are you worried that Sam won’t give you the ball back?” or “Mia is sad because you won’t give her a doll” helps your child explore the emotions and put their own feelings into words.
- Don’t Punish Them for Not Sharing
If you discipline your 18-month old whenever he doesn’t share, you’ll encourage anger and defensive behavior instead of generosity and altruism. Punishing a toddler for not sharing probably won’t help her learn to share, so use every opportunity to encourage taking turns instead. Practice and encouragement will help your child learn how to communicate her needs and understand the importance of sharing.
- Use Distraction
When things get too heated up, simply offer another toy or game and redirect your toddler’s attention.
- Talk about Sharing
Talk to your child about sharing before you set up playdates or take him to the park. For example, you could say, “When we go to the park, you’ll need to share some of your toys. You can take turns the same way you and I do when we play. Why don’t we bring all your beach toys so you and your friends can play together in the sandbox?”
Also, before the play begins, help your toddler choose which toys he will share with playmates and which ones he wants to keep to himself.
Respect his choices and ownership. Ask for your child’s permission before you borrow his toy, and make sure that other family members and playmates respect his possessions too.
When to Step In
When a toy quarrel begins, try not to intervene right away, but allow for self-learning. Observe the children and give them some time and space to work the problem out themselves.
However, if the situation is escalating, then interfere. Distract your child or remove him from the situation until he calms down.
Sharing is a complex skill that children learn. To teach your toddler to share toys, set a good example and encourage sharing.
Use words to explore emotions related to sharing and praise each small step towards sharing that your toddler makes.
Yes, it does take time, but your toddler will get there. Just be patient and persistent.