Can you give your friend a turn with your truck?
Your cousin is sad. Can you let her hold your teddy bear?
Can you share your crackers with your sister?
If you’ve said something similar to your toddler, chances are he looked at you like you were asking him to hand over an arm or a leg.
Some toddlers don’t mind sharing, but most of them are notoriously bad at it. Here’s the thing: They’re supposed to be!
Difficulty sharing is developmentally-appropriate at this age. Here’s why:
Why It’s Hard for Toddlers to Share
There are a couple of key reasons why toddlers and sharing are like oil and water:
1) Toddlers are Focused on Their Own Feelings, Wants & Needs
Sharing involves thinking about someone else’s feelings, wants, and needs, but toddlers are in an “egocentric” phase; they can only view things from their own perspective.
Declarations of me! mine! and me do it! from an egocentric toddler can make your head spin, but they’re actually a sign of healthy development. Toddlerhood is a time of big milestones like walking, talking, and developing hand skills, and being self-involved helps little ones stay focused on mastering these important tasks.
Egocentrism also amplifies a toddler’s sense of possession. Favorite objects, like a well-loved teddy bear, can feel like an extension of himself. He’s also quick to feel possessive about other children’s toys, shared toys at a daycare, or even a bowl of crackers. It’s hard for him to understand concepts like yours and ours. The emphasis is still mine.
2) Toddlers Don’t Understand the Social and Emotional Dynamics of Sharing
Successful sharing involves complex social and emotional skills, like imagining something from someone else’s point of view (perspective-taking), relating to and caring about someone else’s feelings (empathy), and grasping the concepts of turn-taking, fairness, cooperation and patience. These are difficult skills that develop gradually over several years, and toddlers just aren’t there yet.
What You Can Do
First, remember that your toddler’s lack of sharing skills doesn’t mean you’re raising a brat. It can feel frustrating and embarrassing when he clings to toys other children want or grabs toys other children have. Just remember that it’s normal, and with support from you he will get better and better at sharing. Read about how to nurture the building blocks of sharing here, and how to deal with toddler sharing squabbles in realtime here.