For a toddler, sharing toys with another toddler can be a very real challenge. In fact, young children often can’t willingly share until they are developmentally ready, about age three or so.
Even before then, however, toddlers are reaching the critical social and emotional milestones they’ll need to become generous sharers later on.
Here are the age-appropriate strategies you can use to make sure that the Season of Sharing lasts all year round.
What He’s Learning: Independence. Your role is to encourage him as he takes the initiative to explore the world on his own.
Your Sharing Strategy: Don’t force it. (At this stage, forcing a child to share may shake his confidence in his own abilities.) Instead, pack a few extra toys in your diaper bag and gently redirect children who show interest in a toy your child is using.
Also key? When a child shows you a toy, take the time to engage with him and show interest. While not “sharing” in the classic sense, he is inviting interaction—which builds the foundation for sharing later on.
What She’s Learning: Empathy. An essential part of becoming a willing sharer
Your Sharing Strategy: At this stage, children are more likely to offer to share when they understand how others are feeling. When you see an opportunity to share, talk to your child about how her friend might be feeling. “Your friend seems upset and she is reaching for your rubber ducky. I think she likes the squeaking sound it makes. Do you think she wants to play with it?"
What He’s Learning: Cooperative play. When you can begin to expect him to take turns and share.
Your Sharing Strategy: Now you can really begin to build positive sharing habits
- Give your child the option to keep some special toys, such as favorite new holiday gifts, for himself. Explain that these toys need to be kept out of sight before a play date or when younger siblings are around. Our family’s mantra is, “If it’s downstairs, it’s to be shared.”
- Encourage positive sharing during calm playtime before conflict arises. Help children ask each other for a turn.
- Give children the chance to resolve emerging conflicts themselves. “There is only one toy vacuum cleaner and you both really want to use it. What could we do to make everyone happy?”
- If children have a hard time coming up with a solution, help them by providing ideas without solving the problem for them. It’s also a good idea to give the child who is waiting for a turn ways to stay engaged in play. “When Daddy and I vacuum together, one of us moves furniture out of the way while the other one pushes the vacuum.”
The biggest lesson? Keep expectations about sharing in line with your child’s age—and be patient. Once children reach milestones in their social and emotional development, they can surprise us with their ability to share willingly and generously.