Yours and Mine

Toddlers are known for saying the darnedest things. They are known for amazing parents with each new developmental achievement. And they are well known for throwing temper tantrums. But one thing they are not known for is sharing.

While sharing may come naturally to most adults, it is not an innate quality. Toddlers often have troubles understanding the difference between owning an object and using it. In their mind, if someone else is playing with their toy, then it is no longer theirs. When your toddler grabs the toy back and says “Mine!” she is not trying to be selfish. Rather, she is standing up for her rights and asserting her independence. Additionally, most toddlers don’t yet realize that other people have feelings that they need to be sensitive to. In fact, properly learning how to share won’t occur until your child is three or four-years-old. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t begin sowing the seeds of sharing now.

Starting at Home
Learning how to share shouldn’t be forced onto your toddler. It should occur gradually through gentle encouragement and can be learned by examples seen at home. If you repeatedly enforce generosity and empathy at home, your toddler can begin to understand that sharing is a good thing to do.

At home, your toddler can take part in sharing family responsibility by helping out with chores, even if it is something small and simple like putting away the videos laying on the floor by the television. Be sure to explain to your toddler how the whole family has to share the task of looking after the house.

To help her learn about empathy, let your toddler help you prepare some tea and orange slices for a sick sibling. This way she can directly see how her actions contribute to making someone else feel better.

Since your toddler is probably more willing to try sharing with you than anyone else, take advantage of it by playing games or doing activities that involve taking turns. If you’re working on a puzzle together, alternate between who gets to put the next piece in its place. Help him learn about co-operation by taking turns placing a toy block into a container. This activity has the added bonus of being a double lesson: he also learns the importance of keeping his room tidy.

Don’t forget to be respectful of your toddler’s possessions. Just as you encourage your toddler to ask before she takes something of yours, so should you ask for her permission to use her items. When you do get your hands on that prized toy or crayon, treat it with respect and handle it carefully. She will probably be more willing to lend her toys out to others in the future if she sees that no harm will come to them when someone else uses them.

Playing with Friends
When it’s time for a fellow toddler to come over and play, make it easier for your toddler by preparing them for the play date. Sit him down and explain how all of his toys are for both him and his friend to play with. If it will make him feel better, you can ask your toddler is there is one or two particular toys that he would like to put away so that no one else (including him) can play with it.

Verbal encouragement is always a good way to promote ideal behavior in toddlers. This is especially useful if the play date is at someone else’s home. Saying something like “Wasn’t it fun when you and John played nicely with blocks together?” can help your toddler be more willing to repeat that behavior.

No matter how much you promote sharing, though, it is almost inevitable that at some point your toddler will snatch a toy from her friend. When this happens, don’t over react. Instead, wait and see how the toddlers handle the situation. If neither of them blinks an eye, then don’t worry about it. Although it does seem like anti-social behavior to adults, it is perfectly normal behavior for toddlers. However, once tears start flowing or the aggression escalates to hitting, then it is time to step in.

Hand the toy back to her friend and tell your toddler “Oliver was playing with that. It’s not nice to take his toy. See how you made him sad?” This will help her learn about both empathy and sharing. But if she and her friend just can’t stop fighting over a particular toy, maybe it’s time to give the toy a time out. Although it may seem like she is the one that needs a time out, you should avoid disciplining your toddler for not sharing. This will cause her to resent sharing and make her more resistant to future sharing opportunities.

Signs of Sharing
Some toddler’s may partake in semi-sharing. This is when your toddler is willing to show a friend their toy but is not willing to let go of it. Gentle encouragement and praise (“That’s very nice of you to show Ellie the Elephant to Erin”) can help him learn to eventually let go of his prized possessions.

Many parents are thrilled to see their toddler give a toy back to a friend on their own. Although it appears to be sharing, it is, in fact, your toddler discovering a new way to affect people. In fact, she may even grab the toy back to see if her friend will cry again. Then she’ll return the toy to make the crying stop only to yank it back yet again before she hands it back for good. While this may not be your ideal form of sharing, it is a small step in the right direction