“We have to share!”

If you’ve uttered this phrase recently, you probably have a toddler. And you’ve probably been met with confusion, anger or meltdowns.

Sharing, as you might gather, is a difficult concept for young children. Most experts actually think it’s wrong to force young children to share: developmentally speaking, they just don’t have the capacity.

By around age 4, most children start to understand that others might have wishes that differ from their own. Before then, sharing can be a challenge (and that’s an understatement). Still, there are a few important things you can do to help the process along:

  1. Don’t force sharing. Forcing children to share can delay the development of sharing skills. Instead, introduce the concept of taking turns. You might even try using a timer to help show your child how to take turns. They’ll be reassured that sharing doesn’t mean giving away their toy forever.
  2. Put special toys away. Even us adults have belongings we don’t want to share with our friends—and that’s ok. Before your child’s friend comes over for a playdate, ask your child to put away any items he doesn’t want to share.
  3. Help develop a sense of empathy. Begin introducing the concept of noticing how other people feel as early as you can. Kids learn valuable lessons by discussing how their actions impact others. For example, instead of simply asking your child to “say you’re sorry,” ask, “How do you think your friend is feeling? What could you do to help?”
  4. Encourage cooperation and being helpful. Our kids pick up behavior from everyday life. Activities that seem simple, like peek-a-boo or tossing a ball back and forth, lay the groundwork for sharing down the road. So does allowing your child to partake in everyday chores such as cleaning up toys or putting away clothes.
  5. Create opportunities for playtime with other kids. Learning to play well with others is not a one-time lesson. It takes time and practice. Just being around other children and interacting during play, whether at the park or through more organized playgroups, gives children opportunities to practice sharing.
  6. Praise positive behavior. It’s easy to react to unwanted behavior but responding to positive behavior—when it happens—will get your little one to understand that sharing is a good thing. Use descriptive praise when your child does share: let her know how happy you are and point out that she’s made that other child happy, too.
  7. Each child develops at their own pace. Don’t worry if your child isn’t sharing when you think she should be. Sharing—like many other skills—is learned as children’s social, emotional and cognitive development increases.

By Parents Place Staff