Toddlers Must Share! What???

“There are no villains or victims in Toddlerland, just children learning by experimenting with social behaviors.” -Janet Lansbury


Wow, your popsicle looks so much better than mine…perhaps I will take it.

My views on sharing are not typical. I don’t share all that own, why should my son? When we say to a child “Share, please” you are only saying “Please give your toy to ____”. Hmmmm…

Toddlers have a sense of selfishness that is completely appropriate and healthy. In his first year, Darwin didn’t want to share me, his mama. His attachment to me as his primary caregiver was completely healthy and expected. Now in his second year, he is developing a love and attachment to objects. Also, completely healthy. He is going from oneness to separateness; establishing an identity separate from his “mama”. He hasn’t reached the “I do it myself!” and “Mine!” toddler phase but many of the kiddos I have taken care of have. Again, totally expected. Totally healthy.

Sharing your beloved bulldozer requires empathy- something that children are seldom capable of under the age of six. Yep, SIX! Yet we expect three-year-olds, or even one- and two-year-olds to share! Nope, not going to happen. If they are sharing it’s because you have conditioned them to do it, as a social gesture…not because they want to do it. In fact until a child is three we shouldn’t expect them to share at all…these are the years that they engage in parallel play (playing alongside but not with others). Darwin cares about himself and his bulldozer- but I do not expect him to think about what the other child wants or feels.

That said, given guidance and generosity, the selfish two-year-old can become a generous three or four-year-old.

Like everything else, children must be taught to share. If you haven’t read my post on biting and hitting you might not know my mantra “You gotta teach them everything” and sharing is one of those things.

darwin doll

“Why no, I will not be sharing my Darwin doll.”

What steps can you take to ease your child through this difficult time?

1) Don’t intervene. It is easier to say this then to put it into action because of our parenting egos but your kiddo needs these social learning experiences to learn about give and take, and to help develop a sense of empathy. As long as there is no hurting going on, leave the kiddos to work these situations out by themselves. Just observe interactions and be ready to step in if hitting (etc.) begins.

2) Model generosity. “Want some of my cheese and crackers?” “Let’s share this orange.”

3) Give praise when you see the desired behavior! If Johnny gives the bulldozer to Peter then give Johnny the kudos he deserves, “Johnny that was so nice of you to share your bulldozer!”


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