Whether it’s at a playdate, daycare, or park, toddlers and toys together usually leads to sharing squabbles.
Rest assured your toddler’s sharing woes aren’t a reflection of bad parenting or caregiving, or a sign she’ll grow up to be selfish. Self-centeredness in toddlerhood is a normal developmental stage. Sharing involves thinking about someone else’s feelings, wants, and needs, and that develops slowly over the first several years of life.
So what’s a parent or caregiver to do?
Try implementing these strategies to create a sharing-friendly environment. You’ll need a healthy dose of patience, too — with support your toddler will get better and better at sharing, but ages 1 and 2 are primetime for sharing spats.
Nurture the Building Blocks of Sharing
This is so important that we wrote an entire article about it. The building blocks of sharing include perspective-taking, empathy, turn-taking, fairness, cooperation, and patience. Hefty concepts for a toddler, but you can start laying the foundation for them now.
Don’t Force Your Child to Share or Discipline Her for Not Sharing
Trying to force your toddler to share is like trying to force her to tie shoelaces; she’s simply not developmentally ready to do it! Disciplining her by scolding her or putting her in time-out may confuse her more than teach her a lesson about sharing. Instead, try this:
Gently Guide Sharing in Realtime
For young toddlers like brand-new one year-olds, intervening in sharing spats may be as simple as swooping in, distracting your toddler from the conflict, and redirecting her to something else.
A toddler nearing her second birthday, on the other hand, may need a little more. Get down on her level and model perspective-taking and empathy. “You both want the red car. That’s hard. Your friend is playing with it and doesn’t want to stop yet.” Or, “I understand you want to play with the red car. But your friend is sad because you grabbed it from her.” Then, offer possible solutions.
When it comes to solutions, you can try different things. Some experts say to encourage little ones to play with something until they’re “all done” and then another child can have a turn. This, they say, teaches positive assertiveness, child-directed turn-taking, and patience. Sometimes “all done” is too long, though, in which case you could try a toy timer: When toddlers want the same toy, set an alarm. One child plays with the toy until the alarm goes off, and then the other child gets a turn for the same amount of time.
Respect Favorite Possessions
Sharing is hard enough for toddlers. Throw in a favorite stuffed animal and you may have a full-blown meltdown on your hands. If you’re planning a playdate, put your child’s favorite possessions away ahead of time. If your toddler gets upset when other children touch any of her toys, talk about special toys vs. sharing toys. The special ones she gets to put away, and the sharing ones are okay for other children to play with.
Learning to share is a long process, but using these strategies helps lay the foundation for better sharing as she reaches preschool, kindergarten, and beyond.