Teaching Your Toddler to Share

By Nicole Gregory

If your child has ever loudly refused to share a toy in a public place, you may have felt the urge to step in, take over and force him to do it. But don’t. You’ll only make it harder for your child to learn to share, a skill that doesn’t come easily. “Sharing is challenging. It takes a long time to learn,” says Claire Lerner, LCSW, a child development specialist with Zero to Three, a national nonprofit organization that helps parents and teachers of toddlers. “They learn it best with sensitive adults who can help them over time to manage their feelings.”

Sharing games

Children can begin to pick up the idea earlier than you might think. “When a baby is 8 or 9 months old and crawling, you can start to teach sharing by handing objects back and forth,” says Tim Craig, the founder and director of a nursery school in Van Nuys, Calif., and vice president of the Association of Child Development Specialists. “A baby can develop preverbal knowledge of give-and-take through this simple game: You hand the baby a ball and the baby hands it back.

Children of parents who are able and willing to practice give-and-take activities like this will have an easier time with sharing later on.” As toddlers grow, we need to provide them with the words to facilitate sharing. “In our culture, the language of sharing is not spoken enough,” says Craig. “By giving kids language of reciprocal sharing, they will be more able to wait, and more able to give up an object.” When you’re all finished, I want a turn can be taught to kids as early as 2 years, 9 months.

At about age 3, 3-1/2, they start being able to wait their turn. “With this phrase, you’re setting up the language of sharing,” Craig explains. A natural activity for practicing this language is to sit with your toddler to draw pictures— using only five colored crayons so that you and your child must take turns with them. “Implicit in this kind of sharing is that the toddler will get the crayon back,” says Craig. “And when a toddler really understands that she will get an object back, it’s much easier to share it.”