As babies grow into toddlerhood, they pass through many developmental milestones. Learning to share is one of them.
Sharing, just like everything else up to this point, is a practiced skill. Kids aren’t intentionally being selfish when they don’t want to share, they are simply acting their age developmentally. So, don’t be embarrassed when your 2-year-old grabs a toy and shouts, “Mine!” Simply turn it into a teachable moment.
Try these simple tips to help teach your toddler how to share and have a good attitude:
1. Create sharing opportunities. Sharing is not a natural response for a toddler, the concept must be taught. Be patient, don’t rush the process — and they will catch on. Don’t force your child to share. Instead, create opportunities for him to include others and share his belongings. Coach him through the event prior to guests arriving. Host a playgroup in your home to create a safe practice space. He may be unwilling at first, but with practice he will see that he has other toys available to play with. Redirect his attention and eventually he will be OK with other children playing with his toys, too. To make it easier for him, remove his favorite toy from the whole equation and don’t allow any child to play with it.
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2. Set time limits. Set the expectation by saying, “You can play with it for 10 minutes, and then it is Sally’s turn.” Toddlers have a hard time playing together as it is, so setting limits will encourage sharing. Setting a timer works great: When the bell chimes, it’s time to change toys. Your child may be reluctant to pass the toy on, so don’t be surprised if you have to intervene.
3. Reward good behavior. If sharing goes well, praise him on a job well done in front of the group. Say things like, “You’re such a big boy for sharing your toys with Tommy,” or “Doesn’t it feel good to play nice with your friends?” Kids love stickers. Give a sticker for good behavior or a special snack at lunch. Make the reward immediate because toddlers have a short attention span. At dinner, have him tell Daddy what a good boy he was by sharing his toys at playtime. Continual positive reinforcement goes a long way with kids because they have an innate desire to please you.
4. Model your behavior. Kids will imitate what they see. Offer opportunities for to share with them by sharing a bite of your food. Talk them through the process, “This is a yummy sandwich, I would sure like to share it with you,” then offer them a bite. End the conversation with “Thanks for sharing with me. It makes me feel good to share things with you.” Make sharing a positive experience with them so they will associate that feeling when sharing their toys with friends.
5. Teach delayed gratification. Kids want everything right now. Offer them choices like, “If you let Susie take a turn playing with your doll now, we can go to the park tomorrow and play on the slide.” Make the reward for sharing bigger than just playing with the toy in that moment. Giving them control over the process also makes them feel grown up.
Start teaching the concept of sharing early. Talk out loud when you are sharing with them to familiarize them with the process. When introducing the idea of sharing to a group of kids, set rules so everyone knows they are expected to share. Model offering toys for friends to play with in front of your child so they can model your behavior; i.e. “Sam, would you like to play with Ethan’s truck today?” Then motion to Ethan to pass the truck to Sam. Don’t punish them when they don’t quite get it, express your disappointment and encourage them to do better next time. Intervene when you must to keep the peace, but with consistent reinforcement sharing will become a natural response as the child grows older.