How many times have you wanted to say no when your child asks for a bite of your favorite snack or that “cheat meal” you have been looking forward to all week? Do you ever find yourself fighting for control of the your phone?
If adults find themselves struggling to share, how can we expect children to share with ease? As a Child Development Specialist, I am constantly asked: “How can I get my little one to share?”
Generosity and empathy are the foundation of sharing, but these important qualities are learned, not innate. Below I have listed strategies to foster sharing with your toddlers.
Lead by Example
Toddlers learn best by witnessing a behavior or action and then mimicking it. As their caregiver, make note of each time you share with them. If you give them a bite of your food, mention “Mommy is sharing her food with you”. The next time you eat, reverse the behavior and ask to share your child’s snack. If you are sitting at the table, encourage your kids to share the spotlight by giving each person an opportunity for uninterrupted talk time.
Prep for Share Time
Managing your toddler’s expectations before a play date or social situation is a great way to get them on board with sharing. If they have a friend coming over, mention that everyone gets to play with all the toys, but if they have a special item (like a certain teddy), they may put it away beforehand. If you are headed to a mommy and me play class, remind them that all the toys there are for everyone and there will be plenty of items to go around.
Praise, Praise, Praise
When your little one is successful with sharing, give high praise. Clap, cheer, high five, or celebrate however you prefer. Children want to please their caregivers, so they will try and recreate the actions that you were happy with.
If you see your little one grab for a toy another child has, and they can’t work it out themselves, go over and offer an alternative. Say something like: “It’s not nice to grab things from people, here is another toy that you might like to play with until it’s your turn”
Be Firm on Hitting, Biting, or Shoving
A lot parents reveal stories where they were mortified because their child got physical after a sharing incident broke out (my youngest has a natural temper, so I have plenty of my own). If your child hits, bites, or shoves in response to losing a toy, it is imperative that it’s dealt with immediately. A good response is: “We do not hit people! That hurts!”. Picking your little one up, and bringing them over to the other child, apologizing on their behalf is a good way to show the appropriate response for making a mistake. Often, when kids are yelled at in a group, they become embarrassed and won’t apologize when you try and force it.
Incorporate Sharing into Everyday Life
As mentioned above, leading by example is a great choice, but consistency is going to make the most impact. Grab some toys that have several of the same pieces (such as a tea set, or building blocks) and sit down with your child and one other person to play. Use some of the toy pieces for yourself, and work sharing and taking turns into the play environment. Here is an example of what to say if your child reaches for your toy: “This cup is mine, you have the exact same one right there. Let’s use these and then switch.”
Sharing isn’t always easy, but it’s an important skill to teach children at an early age. No matter how old, generosity is a gracious quality respected and appreciated by all.