Sharing with others is a challenge for young toddlers under age three. They are still developing the concepts of ownership and emotional control. As a result, grabbing items from peers or siblings occurs frequently in the one-to-two age range. However, nurturing sharing skills is vital since this prosocial behavior emerges around three years old when toddlers gain competence in negotiating mutual toy use.
Possessiveness is Normal in the Toddler Years:
Between the ages of 1 and 2, children display more possessive behaviors and have trouble sharing. They now understand certain toys or objects belong to them. When another person tries to take or play with their possessions, toddlers instinctively pull the objects back. They also routinely grab items from other children because they lack impulse control. These behaviors are developmentally normal for this stage. Forcing toddlers to share before they are ready often results in conflict or emotional outbursts.
How Sharing Develops:
Between the ages of 2 and 3, several skills develop to enable sharing. First, toddlers begin controlling reactions like hitting upon losing possessions. Additionally, they cultivate social awareness and concern for their playmates’ emotions. For example, toddlers may now feel bad about snatching a toy that makes their friend sad. If they realize grabbing a toy makes their friend sad, they may be motivated not to grab it. Third, toddlers must understand turn-taking and that they will likely get another chance to play with the toy later on. This involves some patience and delayed gratification skills.
As language and conversation skills improve during ages 2 and 3, toddlers can also verbally work out sharing agreements. For example, a 3-year-old might be willing to share a toy if his friend agrees it has to be given back after a certain amount of time. Parents can facilitate sharing by narrating these types of social negotiations.
How Parents Can Encourage Sharing:
Parents play an integral role in nurturing empathy, self-regulation, social awareness, and other skills needed for sharing. Here are some tips:
- Model sharing. Parents should demonstrate sharing behaviors in front of toddlers. Narrate your actions by saying, “Mommy is sharing this book with you,” or “I had the toy first, but now it’s Daddy’s turn.”
- Reinforce any positive sharing. Verbally praise your toddler whenever he does show generosity. Say things like, “You shared your truck with Ashley. Sharing makes her happy. What a good friend!”
- Help toddlers take turns. As your child plays with others, set gentle reminders about taking turns. You might say, “You’ve had the puzzle for a little while. Let’s give your sister a turn before you play with it again.”
- Never force sharing. Forced sharing often makes toddlers feel resentful. It is better to teach waiting and turn-taking. Say, “I see you want the bike right now. Let’s ask Ella how many more minutes she plans to ride it. Then you can have the next turn.”
Developmental Milestones in Sharing Ability:
Understanding the stages of sharing ability can help parents set realistic expectations:
- 1 year: No sharing ability. Grabbing objects from others is normal at this age.
- 2 years: Sharing for brief moments, but still very limited. A 2-year-old may occasionally let another child play with their toy, but will likely grab it back almost immediately.
- 3 years: Starting to willingly share for more extended periods, at least with close family or friends. For example, a 3-year-old might let a good friend borrow their favorite toy for a few hours. Verbal sharing agreements have become more common at this age.
- 4 years: Four-year-olds display more consistent sharing behaviors, although there is still room for maturation. At this point, they should be able to take hourly or daily turns with favored possessions.
- 5 years: Kindergarten-aged children can usually share well with friends and siblings. Though conflict still arises, 5-year-olds have better patience, communication skills, and emotional regulation to work through issues.
Supporting Sharing Skills in Childcare Settings:
Toddlers often attend childcare centers or preschools. These programs have opportunities to foster sharing between ages 2 and 5, which are crucial years for developing prosocial abilities. Teachers can implement targeted interventions like toy rotations, timers and role playing to nurture generosity and patience around possessions. Below are some tips for childcare staff and teachers.
Rotate beloved toys on a regular schedule so toddlers learn to share these resources. For example, make a calendar note that the trains switch to the toddler room on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Meanwhile, the puppets spend Tuesdays and Thursdays in the younger room. Rotating helps reinforce turn-taking. It also prevents fights over favored play items.
Egg timers, hour glasses and smartphone timer apps help toddlers visualize sharing agreements. Say, “Emily, would you like the puzzle next? Let’s have Johnny set the 5-minute timer. When it rings, the puzzle goes to you.” Physical timers provide neutral, consistent visual cues around sharing.
Incorporate Role Play:
Pretend play encourages empathy, cooperation, and sharing actions. Provide costumes and props for children to act out scenes requiring generosity. For example, have toddlers take turns being the doctor, nurse, or patient. Or, one child can play the firefighter rescuing someone else’s baby doll from a simulated burning building. Narrate their actions with praise, “You shared your fire truck and ladder with Sarah so she could save the baby!”
Focus on Abundance:
Remind children there are many excellent toys to play with. Say, “I know you both want the blue bike right now. But we also have a red bike, a yellow scooter, or these fun racetracks over here!” Redirect their attention towards other engaging activity centers. Children may realize the blue bike is not their only good option.
Model Conflict Resolution:
Provide gentle narration when disputes arise over possessions. Say, “I see you both want the doll right now. Jayden, can you use your words to ask to play with it after Grace is done?” Then, praise children as they work out compromises. Verbally underline the resolution by saying, “You decided Jayden will play with it after 10 minutes. Nice job figuring out how to share!”
Though unwillingness to share frequently emerges in toddlers ages one to three, these behaviors do not necessarily indicate innate selfish personalities. With sufficient parental modeling and direction over time, young children gain empathy, cooperation skills, and a propensity towards generosity around the ages of three and four. Despite temporary backsliding, normal developmental patterns point toward increased selfless sharing as children approach kindergarten age. However, chronic and severe issues with aggression, possessiveness, or other antisocial actions warrant a conversation with a pediatrician to explore the next steps and supportive resources. Proactive outreach ensures any problems receive proper attention rather than being dismissed as just a phase.
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