Sharing is Caring… But Not to Toddlers!
The Bible makes it clear we are born into a sinful (“selfish”) nature. Yet we often expect that our kids know how to share, and we often punish or shame them if they don’t. Take a deep breath… just like walking, talking or reading, sharing is a learned skill – not a natural behavior or state of being. Let’s talk about a few ways to encourage or support sharing.
Choose Your Words Wisely
I have twin toddlers. They are pretty decent at sharing, in large part because they have to be. But just like any toddlers, they have their moments and difficulties. One of the best ways to get them to respond to the idea of sharing is to frame the practice as “taking turns” instead.
While this may seem like splitting hairs or mere semantics to you and me, think of the power in the difference between these phrases. One phrase means, “I’m giving away something I really want to keep.” The other phrase means, “I’m allowing you to temporarily have something, but I have the realistic expectation of getting it back in a short time frame.”
That expectation of receiving it back makes it tolerable to extend it to another. It also empowers your toddler that they are choosing to exchange a toy instead of feeling as though it’s being taken away.
Make it Fair and Fun
There’s nothing more exhausting than hearing:
“It’s my turn!”
“No, it’s not, I just got it!”
All. Day. Long.
If equal time with a desired object is important, use a timer. One of the things my toddlers had fun deciding was the tone of the timer. Using the timer on a phone gives so many options! I made the mistake of using a regular alarm tone and told them to switch when it went off.
“Um, no, Mom! That’s not right.”
“Nope… we use a duck! The duck didn’t quack!”
Silly me. They had already established the sound with my husband, unbeknownst to me. Evidently, the duck means it’s time to switch.
Now, even without a timer, I can quack at them and they know it’s time to let the other take a turn. I can even quack when we’re at a park and they know it’s time to leave! And, yeah, I now quack a lot. But it leads to less anger and fighting. So, quack I shall!
Model Sharing and Praise
When you model sharing, you show it as a kind thing to do with someone. Sharing to your child is important. Demonstrating it within your family for them to witness is also critical. It could be sharing the salt or pepper at dinner. Or sharing a bite of yummy food.
Perhaps you have something they want. What a perfect opportunity to model the concept of taking turns!
Another way to teach sharing is through positive reinforcement. Every child loves to hear praise for something they did well. Telling them how kind it was to share a toy, a doll or a book with a friend or sibling encourages that behavior to continue. Even a simple, “I’m proud of you for taking turns,” will go a long way with your little one.
Specials Are Okay
Let’s be honest… not everything has to be shared. We, as adults, don’t share everything all the time with anyone who asks. It’s alright for a toddler to have something special they don’t have to share as well. For instance, a special blanket or stuffed animal that they sleep with every night or carry around all the time doesn’t have to be fair game for every child at a playdate or at school.
It’s important to model and teach the appropriate way to handle those situations. Just as we don’t scream, “No! Mine, and you can’t have it!” when a neighbor asks to borrow your brand new car, we can teach our children the right words and the right tone.
Plus, giving your child the power of acceptable “No’s” at a young age can benefit them their whole lives.
You can either encourage your child to put a “special” away during a playdate, or you can guide them to calmly say, “This is special to me. But would you like to play with ______ instead?”
If you begin to get frustrated with your child’s lack of ability to share, remember: it’s a learned trait. Take a deep breath, have patience, and try out some of these ideas. Maybe they’ll inspire and spark new ideas for your family!