When a baby enters their toddler years, they make great strides in development in a comparatively short space of time. All of a sudden, they won’t stop talking, running around, and discovering the world around them. Ultimately, this is a wonderful thing, and among the most rewarding years for a parent. But while their development may be lightening fast, toddlers still struggle to control feelings that we as adults take for granted. One of the most obvious areas this is manifested in is their apparent inability to share. Anything. Ever. It’s extremely frustrating and seems unreasonable, but don’t despair! Here are some tips.
You can get a head start on the issue and begin teaching your little one from a young age by ‘gamifying’ the concept of sharing. Once they start picking up objects, encourage them to pass it back and forth, saying ‘your turn, my turn, your turn, my turn’ etc. teaching your child how to take turns is the first step in learning how to share.
Once your toddler gets a bit older and begins playing games with other children, consider suggesting games that don’t involve ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Competitiveness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s probably not appropriate at this young age, and will likely increase your child’s frustration and subsequent unwillingness to share their ‘prize’. Groups of toddlers aren’t the most subtle either, so unintentional gloating might lead to tantrums and disharmony.
This is something you might have tried previously with other behavioral traits, and positive association can work wonders for sharing as well. For example, you can tell your toddler that you want to sit down and have a cuddle. Then, once you’re sat down, proceed to talk up the benefits of sharing. Or you could talk about the wonders of sharing whilst sharing an ice cream or another favorite treat. The association with positive moments will gradually enter your toddler’s subconscious, in turn persuading them to be more open to the idea.
A bit like positive association, you can capitalize on moments of good behavior from your little one by not just praising them, but by being particularly descriptive when you do so. Instead of using generic phrases like ‘well done, that was excellent sharing’, try and show exactly why you’re showering them with praise. For example, if your toddler shares his toy car with a friend from the nursery, you can say something like ‘wow, did you see that big smile on Jack’s face when you gave him your car? He really liked that, well done!’ Getting deeper into the detail will have a stronger lasting effect on your child, and they’ll actively seek out opportunities to put a ‘big smile on Jack’s face’.
A handy little trick for when you know your toddler will be playing with others. Keep a timer handy and announce that when the timer buzzes, it’s time for the person holding the toy to share it with somebody else, and so on. Doing this will teach your little one (and their friends) that giving away something doesn’t have to be permanent. Ideally, play for long enough that each child gives and receives the toy multiple times, so they experience the feeling of giving and receiving more than once.
Now, this is a tricky tip to follow, especially in social scenarios, but don’t force your toddler to share. Toddlers genuinely don’t understand the concept of ownership, and won’t really grasp it for a while. How would they know that the book on the shelf belongs to a library? Or that the coffee cup on the table belongs to the cafe? This is an alien idea to them, which is why toddlers believe that everything in sight belongs to them. It’s also worth remembering that, to some extent, even adults don’t particularly like sharing. How would you feel if somebody forced you to share your car, just because they’d asked you to do it? Not great, I’d imagine. Ultimately, try not to make your toddler the ‘bad guy’ for not sharing. Hurting their feelings certainly won’t help them learn to share, and could end up doing the exact opposite.
This is super important. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that toddlers are highly observant, so your behavior matters greatly when trying to convince them to adjust theirs. The easiest way to do this is by sharing yourself, all the time. Eating a bag of crisps? Share a few with your little one. Watering the plants? Pass the can to your toddler so that they can have a go. Rearranging something in the house? You get the idea. This is arguably the handiest tool in your box when it comes to teaching your toddler to share, as your influence will always be a crucial factor in how they decide to behave.