Sharing in kids can be so hard. We often want our kids to share what they are playing with because we don’t want others to judge our kids as rude or mean, especially when we are in social situations like playdates or playground trips.
The problem is when we force kids to share we aren’t really thinking about where they are at in their development and that not wanting to share their toys is normal and likely what that little friend would do if they had the coveted toy.
So let’s reframe things – it is okay if our kids don’t want to share. Especially in the toddler years. 2-year-olds don’t understand that others have feelings and wishes different from their own. And what they have in a particular moment (eg. a toy) they consider “mine”. Between 3 – 4 years old, they are getting better at sharing but they still don’t always manage it. Along with that, at 3 – 4 years old they still don’t have a sense of time which makes sharing hard.
Forcing them isn’t going to instill that intrinsic generosity we want so much for them to have as they grow up. They are less likely to want to share the more we force them to do it and might seem more selfish for longer.
How do we help teach sharing without forcing it?
Let kids put away toys they don’t want to share before play dates. It is easier for kids to share some of their things when they know that they don’t have to share everything.
When a situation arises where sharing is an issue we can let them know that their little friend is liking the look of that toy and would love a turn after they’ve finished. And then when they hand it over to their friend, point out how happy the friend is to have a chance to enjoy the toy. This helps a child begin to see the benefits of sharing.
If their little friend is getting frustrated by the wait for the toy we can validate their feelings and help them to find a distraction as they wait. After all, waiting until it is their turn for a toy is actually helping them learn impulse control and the ability to delay gratification.
Role model sharing ourselves. If our child asks for a bit of our food we can give them a taste. This gives them a chance to see what sharing is all about and how sharing makes the recipient feel.