One of the most frequently asked questions at Consistent Parenting is how to go about teaching our toddlers sharing, especially sharing their toys.
It's helpful to know that sharing is not a developmentally appropriate activity for toddlers as parallel play is the stage they are at. This means playing alongside each other rather than 'with' each other.
Here are some parents' recent questions around toddlers sharing toys:
Can you help me with the issues around teaching toddlers to share? I am constantly embarrassed by my toddler's behaviour. At play groups he just grabs at every toy he sees and throws dreadful tantrums when I take them away to give to the other toddlers.
When will my toddler learn to share his toys? I have stopped asking friends over because my son is so possessive of his toys.
How do I teach my toddler to share? She is happy to offer her snacks but just will not let any other child touch her toys. I feel mean when I make her share and yet how else will she learn?
Teaching Your Toddler to Share
Toddlers find it difficult to share as they don't have a strong sense of self or of possession yet. Think about it this way:
We suggest to our toddler that we go to the playground and take with us our toddler's favourite toy of the moment - his truck, or cycle, or scooter. When we arrive a friend is there with her toddler. Immediately this toddler sees our child's toy and grabs for it while out toddler screams loudly and holds on tight. "You must learn to share your toys", we tell our little one, taking it from him and handing it to our friend's child to play with. Now here we are at the playground with our screaming and unhappy toddler while our friend's child is playing happily.
What's wrong with this picture?
We have arranged the outing to the park and chosen which toy our child will have fun with, and yet we take it from him because someone else wants it instead.
How does this teach toddler sharing behaviour?
Let's look at the same scenario again.
Off we go to the playground taking with us a chosen toy of the moment. When we arrive we meet with our friends and their toddlers. We tell our child,
"You have bought your truck to play with. It's yours and you can have fun playing with it. When you have finished with it you can choose to share it with Tom and maybe have a turn with his ball when he has finished with it".
Result: Contented children doing just as we had suggested when we left home.
Our toddlers need to learn that yes, that toy "is mine" first before they can learn how to share it. Sharing is a concept that is understood by older children and by adults who know the ground rules.
I often describe it like this: When I go to visit a friend and she offers me coffee and cake, I expect her to give it to me if I say yes to the offer. I would be rather surprised if she handed it to me and then removed it before I had taken a bite, offering it to someone else instead. And yet this is what we do often with our toddlers and children when we are around others.
We suggest they take their toy with them to play with and then we tell them they cannot play with it because another child wants it instead. If we gave them the time to play with it first, to really understand and experience their ownership of it, then they will learn how to share it much more easily. Our children learn to trust us, to understand self respect, and to see the value of sharing when we model sharing to them in this way.
Can you imagine how your child would feel if he were to hear you say,
"That's your scooter and you can ride it at the moment. When you have finished with riding it you can choose to share it with your friends."
Then you can say to the other child,
"Robbie is riding his scooter just now. When he has finished with it we would love for you to have a turn".
Your child would feel your care for him, he would know you understand and he would learn that he can trust his own feelings about possession. As his experience and understanding around empathy grows, sharing will become a more natural activity.
Parents and Toddler Sharing
I often watch parents struggle with their own feelings about toddler sharing when they feel forced to make their toddler give up a toy to another child.
They experience feelings of embarrassment, resentment toward the other child, unfairness for their own child, discomfort at being observed, and doubt about how appropriate their own actions are.Many parents have told me that they react out of a need to feel accepted around others rather than to do what is right for their own children when faced with issues around sharing.
When we learn to really listen and trust what our feelings are telling us, then we will respond rather than react to the situation at hand.
First, model sharing to your child as often as you can, giving the language that goes with the actions.
"I'm really enjoying playing with this little car. When I'm finished I'm going to share it with you".
Second, teach your child about ownership by showing them consistently how you experience it.
"This makeup is mine. It belongs to me and it is important that I trust you not to touch it."
Third, be aware of making the most of the moments when your child shows understanding about sharing through positive reinforcement. Toddlers can be surprisingly empathetic and loving in their interactions with others and learn best by having this reported back to them.
"I loved watching you share your doll with your friend. That is very kind and loving."
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