Not sharing with other kids and family members is common with children. Learn how to teach toddlers to share with these 7 tips.
Toddlers are notorious for not sharing. They won’t let other kids play with their sand toys, refuse to let go of the steering wheel at the park, and hold tight to their belongings—even if they weren’t interested in them a minute ago.
Normal as it may be with a child’s development, we still want to teach toddlers to share with other children and siblings.
My little ones—being twins—are learning how to share and take turns be default. Add in my eldest and you can see why I want to avoid the whining and fighting that often happens when kids want the same things. I also want to encourage a genuine willingness to play with one another and build a strong sibling bond even at a young age.
How to teach toddlers to share
So, how do you get toddlers to share, much less explain its importance to kids as young as toddlers and preschoolers?
I’ve learned that it’s less effective to force toddlers to share as it is to teach and model the right behavior. And that we can prevent social conflict in the first place, as well as encourage good will and sportsmanship.
Let’s take a look at seven ways to do just that.
1. Practice turn-taking
One of the biggest reasons toddlers refuse to share is that they believe doing so means relinquishing their item. The best way to show that this doesn’t always have to be the case? Practice turn-taking.
Rather than having your toddler completely give up a toy, for instance, he can practice turn-taking to get in the habit of giving to others, knowing he hasn’t lost his turn completely. It’s a fantastic way to encourage him to play with others in a fair way.
How can you practice turn-taking at home?
You might hug a teddy bear and say it’s your turn to hug. Then hand the bear to your toddler and say, “Now it’s your turn to hug the bear.” Keep the game going, passing the bear back and forth while saying whose turn it is to hug.
Or let’s say your kids want a turn riding on the toy fire truck. Set a timer or 10-15 minutes for each child. Similarly, encourage them to cycle through games and activities that naturally lend themselves well to turn-taking. For instance, have them line up for their turn to go down the slide.
Your toddler learns that just because he isn’t using or playing with an item, it doesn’t mean he won’t have a turn with it again. Turn-taking reassures him that he can still share with others without giving up his chance completely.
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2. Praise your toddler when you see her sharing
Do you feel like you’re constantly hounding your toddler to share, to not yank a toy from someone, or that it’s another child’s turn?
What if, instead of focusing too much on where she’s going wrong, you focus on the times when she’s doing the right thing?
You see, kids respond better to positive reinforcement than to constant correction. You’ll have more luck praising your toddler when she’s sharing—no matter how small the gesture—than pointing out when she’s not.
Spot those little moments and acknowledge how well she’s sharing. You might praise her for thinking of others, for taking turns, or for offering a beloved toy to her little brother. These simple praises will be more effective at teaching her how to share than reprimanding her each time she doesn’t.
3. Don’t punish your toddler for not sharing
As much as I want my kids to share, I’m also not a fan of forcing them to.
Children, especially younger ones, have little concept of sharing. Toddlers truly believe that everything in sight is theirs for the taking. They don’t understand that books on the shelf belong to the library, or that the shovel at the park is actually the little boy’s, not theirs.
Not sharing is also a normal behavior, even for adults. Imagine how terrible it’d feel if you had to give up your items because someone else wanted a turn with it. No wonder kids refuse to share, or hold onto their items.
But what do you do if your toddler refuses to part with a toy, even though he’s had it long enough?
First, describe how much fun he’s having with the toy and empathize by saying you’d have a hard time giving it up as well. Next, encourage him to take turns, saying his brother wants a chance as well, and that he’ll have a turn after he’s done.
If he still refuses to share, acknowledge it: “It looks like you’re not ready to share. Let’s give you five more minutes to play with it, so your brother also has a turn.” And remind him that he’ll get a turn again: “After he’s done, you’ll get it back right away.”
Most important, don’t make him out to be the “bad guy” because he didn’t willingly share the toy immediately. These are his genuine feelings, and he needs help learning how to share with others.
4. Model sharing behavior yourself
Kids learn best from what they see us do more so than anything we say.
So the best way to teach your toddler to share is to simply share with him. Eating raisins? Share a few with him. Creating structures out of building toys? Share your pieces when he runs out. Playing with one of his cars? Take turns zooming it back and forth to each other.
As you do, point out how fun and easy it is to share, and how it makes you feel good to do so. Then leave it at that—no need to tie it back to his own actions. Let your consistent behavior serve as gentle reminders for the future when he’s in the same situation.
Perhaps the biggest lesson he’ll learn from your behavior is that everyone shares, not just kids. That sharing isn’t “punishment,” but a lifelong value that benefits everyone.
5. Avoid labeling possessions
Does it drive you crazy when your toddler screams “Mine!” when someone tries to play with his toys? One of the best ways to change this habit is by not saying which items belong to whom.
For instance, you might constantly designate one child’s toys as hers, while another’s as his. Maybe you emphasize how the toy spider is sister’s toy, and that he should play with the spinning top he got instead.
While it’s okay to say whose is whose from time to time, doing this too much makes him more likely to be possessive of the items that are his.
This applies to non-toys as well. If he tries to play with the remote control, you might say, “We don’t play with the remote control,” or “The remote control stays on the side table” instead of “That’s not yours,” or “That’s mine.”
6. Make toys communal
For those with more than one child, refer to most of your kids’ toys as everyone’s toys to encourage communal ownership rather than a single person owning particular items. The benefit? They won’t feel like they have to guard their items or protect their ownership from their siblings.
At first, it seems like a good idea to designate a toy for each child, or even to get one toy for each just to lessen the fighting.
Except it does the opposite: Now each child feels possessive over his items and will refuse to share it with his siblings. Worse, he might not know the joys of sharing because he’s preoccupied with owning and protecting her things.
Of course you’ll have a few exceptions. Beloved toys are special for a reason (like lovies), and choking hazards need to stay away from younger kids.
But encourage a shared view of toys instead of a “that’s mine” and “that’s yours” mentality. Better yet, make playing together a group activity that’s just as fun as playing by yourself.
7. Don’t solve your toddler’s social conflicts
You hear the kids fight, and your first instinct is to rush to the room and put an end to it, especially when the whining and yelling are grating to your ears. You also don’t want their fight to get worse, and sometimes, stepping in seems like what a “good parent” should do.
Except solving their social conflicts—whether with siblings or even another child at the park—denies kids the opportunity to learn how to share on their own. Despite our assumptions, kids can devise ways to come up with their own solutions to sharing—if we give them the chance to.
The next time your kids fight, hang back for a minute or so, even if it seems like they’re not getting anywhere. I’ve found that my kids will come up with creative solutions to sharing, like dividing pieces or taking turns. Other times, they realize it’s not worth the fight and move on.
But they won’t learn any of that if we jump in right away, or worse, assume they can’t resolve their own conflicts without an adult’s intervention.
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Even though not sharing is normal for toddlers, these social conflicts can still be frustrating for you to deal with. Don’t worry: you can still do your part in helping your toddler learn to share.
Start by practicing turn-taking at home, and praising him when he does share. Avoid punishing him for the way he feels, and model sharing behavior yourself. Avoid labeling possessions too much, and instead make most of your kids’ toys communal.
And finally, don’t jump in right away for every social conflict, allowing them to try to resolve it themselves.
With small but effective changes, your toddler won’t be the terror at the library insisting that all books are his, and will instead learn to share—all on his own.
p.s. A fantastic book about sharing to read with your toddler is It’s Mine by Leo Lionni. Check it out at your library or online store to learn about the benefits of sharing:
Get more tips:
- Why Kids Shouldn’t Be Forced to Share
- What to Do if Your Child Shows Off to Others
- How to Teach Conflict Resolution for Children
- Children’s Books about Positive Behavior
- How to Survive the First Few Weeks with a Newborn and Toddler
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