As a mother, you have probably tried to think of every way possible how to teach your toddler to share!
In fact, you can probably think of a recent time you were embarrassed because your toddler hovered over 3 or 4 toys and refused to share them with other children!
You used every convincing tone you could think of, but without success, as your child continued to pull the toys closer while saying, “No, mine!”
Every parent is anxious to teach their children to share.
However, if your child is in the early stages of being a toddler, there is a good reason he/she is not sharing. They are not developmentally able to grasp the concept yet at this age.
There are a couple of reasons the concept of sharing is not in a toddler’s vocabulary:
- Sharing involves taking someone else’s feelings into consideration. They haven’t developed the ability to understand another person’s wants or needs.
- A normal part of toddlerhood development is being self-centered. The inability to share at this age has nothing to do with poor or inattentive parenting!
At around 2 1/2 years old, you will be able to make some headway into how to teach your toddler to share. The concept won’t be fully understood until around or shortly after turning 3.
In the meantime, the following tips can lay a foundation for when your child is developmentally able to start sharing.
1. Encourage the building blocks of sharing
The building blocks of sharing include empathy, taking turns, fairness, cooperation, consideration of someone else’s perspective, and patience.
These are in-depth concepts and explain why they are difficult for a toddler to understand.
However, you can start laying the foundation for your toddler now by demonstrating them yourself.
For example, if you are eating crackers and your child reaches for them, say “Would you like some of my crackers? Here you go, I will share them with you!”
Depending on the age of your toddler, it is often best to simply remove them from the situation.
Brand new toddlers that recently turned one can be easily distracted, and they will usually just start playing with something else when you divert their attention.
An older toddler, on the other hand, is not as easily distracted. When your child gets closer to the 2-year-old mark, it is time to start laying the foundation to help him understand the concept of sharing.As your child gets close to 2 years old, he's ready for you to start laying the foundation to teach the concept of sharing.
Using empathy and understanding, kneel down so you are eye-to-eye with him (get down on his level.) Explain the situation and then offer a solution, “You both want the red fire engine. That’s hard. Your friend is playing with it right now, and he isn’t ready to stop playing with it yet.”
If it is the other way around, you might say, “I understand you really like the red fire engine and want to play with it. Your friend is sad because you grabbed it from him.” Then offer possible solutions.
When offering a solution, avoid using the words ‘all done,’ such as, “Your friend can play with the red fire truck until he is all done and then you can play with it.”
Toddlers don’t have any concept of time; therefore, they cannot understand the meaning of ‘all done.’
If you try to force your toddler to share, it is the same as if you tried to force him to tie his shoes!
He simply is not developmentally capable and will fail, leaving you to deal with how to handle the meltdown it caused!
4. Acknowledge and reward the right actions
Toddlers love to please others, even though they are highly self-centered.
It is not uncommon to catch a toddler in the act of sharing, although they don’t realize that is what they’re doing. More often than not, they are intrigued by another little person and that is their interest more than a toy or their surroundings.
What they are doing is interacting with the other child, not really sharing.
When you catch them in the act, immediately complement and praise them for their actions, “That was so kind of you to share your red fire truck with Sam! Thank you for sharing!”
5. Don’t discipline your toddler for not sharing
Disciplining your child when he doesn’t share can cause confusion that can be difficult to resolve.
Because your toddler doesn’t understand the true meaning of sharing, he won’t understand what he is being disciplined for. Therefore, the behavior (not sharing) will continue to happen since he doesn’t know what he is doing wrong.
Keep in mind when you start focusing diligently on how to teach your toddler to share as he gets closer to 3 years old, this tip should be handled according to your child’s awareness of his actions.
Don’t wait for teachable moments to happen on their own.
Be on the lookout for situations you can turn into a learning situation and role-model sharing for your child.
For example, if you make cookies and have two children, give a cookie to one and then say, “Suzi can you please break off half your cookie and give it to Joe? Thank you for sharing!”
7. Reword the term ‘sharing’ so it’s easier to understand
When we expect children to share, the expectation is really for them to play peacefully together.
One part of the difficulty in understanding sharing from a toddler’s perspective is without a concept of time they don’t know if or when they will get the toy back if they give it away. This plays a large part in the difficulty of how to teach your toddler to share.
When it comes to teaching a child to share, the wording we use is one of the most important parts of the process.
For example, if he has a bag of chips and has to give it to a friend to share, we say, “It’s okay, you will get it back!”
That creates confusion because he isn’t going to get back what was eaten!
A better way to encourage sharing to alleviate any confusion is to rephrase ‘sharing’ into ‘take turns.’ For example, “You had your turn, now it’s time for Suzie to take her turn playing with the red fire truck.”
8. Respect your child’s favorite possessions
Sharing is hard enough for toddlers without throwing a favorite toy or possession into the mix!
To avoid a potential full-blown meltdown, try to remove the toys or possessions ahead of a playdate coming over that you know would cause a problem for other kids to play with. If you are going somewhere, leave them at home or in the vehicle if other children will be present, like at a swimming pool.
These should be hand-selected, and not include the majority of the child’s toybox! If your toddler doesn’t want to share any of her toys, it is time for a talk about the differences between special belongings vs. regular belongings.
Reiterate one of the biggest differences is the special ones he gets to put away (or not take with him) and play with by himself, and the regular toys are the sharing ones that are okay for other children to play with.
To keep this in perspective, think of yourself as an adult. There are still personal belongings that are special to us that we do not like to share (and don’t!)
What has worked for you to ease your toddler into understanding the concept of sharing?
Sharing is an important concept that will be used in preschool, kindergarten, and every year after.
Learning to share can be a long process that takes loads of patience. These tips offer a great start and will build a strong foundation to get the process started!
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