If your little one throws a fit any time another child even looks at his toys, you’re not alone.
There are good reasons for why sharing is hard for toddlers, which you can read about here. The gist is that sharing involves social and emotional concepts that take several years for children to fully grasp. That said, you can lay the groundwork for sharing now.
Let’s take a look at the social and emotional “building blocks” of sharing, and how you can weave them into daily life with your little one. Remember, these are very tricky concepts for a toddler. The idea is to talk about them, model them, and help your child practice them so he can get better and better at sharing.
Perspective-taking is being able to imagine something from someone else’s point of view. By definition, toddlers are “egocentric” — only seeing things from their own perspective. You can plant the seeds of perspective-taking by labeling different points of view for your toddler: “You want the train your friend has but he wants to keep playing with it.” Or: “He’s crying because you grabbed the train. He didn’t like that.”
Once you imagine someone’s perspective, empathy helps you relate to and care about it. Empathy for someone’s feelings is often a motivation to share. Empathy is a big one, so we wrote an entire article about it with practical tips.
Sharing often involves taking turns. A child needs to feel comfortable with concepts like, “You play with that toy while I play with this one, and then we can switch.” This is hard for toddlers because they think if they give something up, they may never get it back. Play plenty of turn-taking games with your toddler (see our BabySparks “Sharing Toys” and “Your Turn, My Turn” activities).
Fairness is often a motivation to share. Your child can learn, for instance, that if he commandeers nine toy cars at a playdate and his peer is left with one, it’s more fair to divide them evenly. Guide your child in situations calling for fairness. If he goes for handful after handful of blueberries meant for sharing, try: “These blueberries are for all the kids. If you eat them all, the other kids won’t have any. Let’s look for something else to do.”
Sharing is at the heart of cooperation, whether it’s sharing toys while playing together or sharing responsibilities to get something done. Encourage cooperation during play (see our BabySparks “Teamwork” activities). When it comes to sharing responsibilities, invite your toddler to “help” you do a chore (see our BabySparks “Helping Around the House” activities).
When sharing involves taking turns, it means one person has to wait for something they want. Create opportunities for your toddler to wait for something (see our BabySparks activity “Patience, Patience”). Also, point out when he’s waiting patiently, and praise him for it.
Because it takes time to learn these building blocks, toddler sharing squabbles are inevitable. You can find helpful tips for dealing with them here.