There are so many lessons that our toddlers need to learn: from basic life skills like potty training and sleeping in a “big kid” bed, to physical skills like jumping and running, and emotional skills like regulating emotions or sharing with others.
At a family friends’ home for dinner, I can vividly remember my little brother struggling to share a toddler. He enjoyed playing with a toy fire tuck so much that when he was asked to share it with another kid, he picked it up and chucked it down the stairs as hard as he could.
Now as a young mother, I used that experience to teach my young son how to share. He definitely had his moments when sharing was nearly impossible, especially when he was asked to share toys with his younger brother.
Here are a few comforting things that I learned along the way, as well as some great, actionable tips you can use to help your toddler learn to share!
What Age Can Toddlers Learn to Share?
It’s perfectly natural that almost all toddlers will struggle with sharing. From taking turns or giving up their toys to siblings or playmates, sharing is a skill that takes time to learn.
Interestingly, a 2016 national parent survey performed by Zero to Three revealed that 43% of parents think children can share and take turns with others before age 2. 71% believe children have this ability before age 3!
Research suggests that kids don’t typically develop empathy until they are about six years old. This means that empathetic behavior (such as sharing) won’t be something your child really internalizes until that time.
The truth is, sharing is difficult for kids until they are at least 3 years old, says Dr. Sears. However, they don’t automatically learn to share on their 3rd birthday.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t start teaching your child to share at a younger age because there are certainly children who do develop this skill sooner. However, it is important to keep realistic expectations in mind.
Since each child has a different personality, it may come easy for some and very difficult for others.
Your toddler may have moments when he throws the giant fire truck when asked to take turns, grabs his friend’s stuffed animal, or won’t share his puzzle with his siblings. That’s okay.
Do your best to take it in stride, remember that your child is still young, and that you can continue to help him or her develop sharing skills over time.
10 Tips to Help your Toddler Learn to Share (Eventually)
Although we’ve learned that the natural ability to share can take some time, it’s still very important to set the ground work at a young age. If you want to teach your toddler to share, follow these tips to get them listening and taking turns sooner rather than later.
1. Point out examples of sharing
One of the easiest ways to teach your toddler how to share is to point out examples of positive sharing.
If you read a great story or watch a movie in which one of the characters does something generous, be sure to mention it aloud.
You might say something like, “Did you notice that Timmy gave his bear to his friend when his friend was sad? That was nice of Timmy to share.”
The more exposure your toddler has to examples of sharing behavior, the better.
2. Be a good example yourself
Just as finding examples of sharing behavior your child can relate to, it can be extremely helpful for your toddler to see his caregivers sharing as well.
To make sure he or she notices your sharing behaviors, you can mention them to your child!
For example, if your partner saves the last of the dessert for you, you could say, “Look! Daddy was so nice to share the last scoop of ice cream with me!”
3. Affirm and clarify their feelings
When your toddler is having a hard time sharing, take a moment to acknowledge his or her feelings.
Also, make sure your toddler understands that sharing is only a temporary arrangement.
You could say something like, “I know you really love your race cars, and it can be hard to share. But Ella will be sure to give them back when she’s done.”
4. Own a combination of personal and shared toys
If you have more than one child, it is a great idea to have a combination of personal and shared toys.
This means that your toddler definitely has some toys that are uniquely hers. Special gifts, such as birthday and holiday presents, are great examples of individual toys.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to have toys that belong to all of your kids collectively. Art supplies, blocks, train tracks, books, games, and puzzles are all excellent ideas for shared-ownership toys.
Having toys that are consistently shared with brothers or sisters may make it easier for your toddler to share them with his or her playmates.
5. Practice taking turns
As often as possible, practice taking turns with your toddler, and be sure to make mention of it.
You could play simple physical games, such as I Spy, Follow the Leader, Duck Duck Goose, and focus on taking turns.
The concept of taking turns is very similar to sharing, so it’s a good idea to help your toddler practice this as much as possible.
6. Allow your toddler to protect special possessions
If you know your toddler has particular possessions he or she will not want to share, consider putting these toys in a safe place before any other playmates arrive.
About 5-10 minutes before a friend comes over, help your toddler collect the toys he or she does not want to share, and put them in a closet or up high where they won’t be touched.
As you are doing this, it’s a good idea to discuss about how your toddler will now be ready to share his or her other toys instead!
7. Use a timer
A great solution for when your toddler struggles to share is to use a simple visual timer. Decide on a certain amount of time (usually five minutes is more than enough!), and set your timer.
A visual timer works great because it will provide a reference for younger children that can’t tell time, that her time to share is approaching.
Often I find that toddlers even lose interest way before five minutes is up! They’ll put the toy down, move on to something else, and the other child can then have the original toy.
8. Don’t force your toddler to share
If your toddler still doesn’t want to share when the timer goes off, it’s important that you don’t force him or her to share by prying the item out of their hands.
Forcing your toddler into any behavior often creates more serious issues, such as increased anger or frustration.
Instead, you can help your child recognize the emotions of the other child, give your child two other acceptable options, or redirect both toddlers to a completely different activity.
For example, if your toddler doesn’t want to share the race cars, you might say, “I know it’s hard to share, but Susie has been waiting so patiently. Would you rather play with the blocks or the trains now instead?”
Or, if you really need to redirect, try this: “Who’s ready for snack time?!” Check out more tips to get your toddler to listen here.
9. Encourage your child to find solutions
To help toddlers find solutions to their sharing dilemmas, it can actually be a good idea to ask them for their ideas. Even though they’re very young, you may be surprised by the solutions your toddler can come up with!
You could simply say something like, “I see you both want this toy. What can we do so that we can solve this problem?”
10. Give specific praise
When you see your toddler share successfully, be sure to mention it specifically. Giving this positive, specific praise can go a long way in reinforcing your toddler’s positive behavior.
Something such as, “Wow! You did a great job sharing your crayons today! I think you helped Sarah to feel really happy!”
There are lots of different things you can do to model and recognize positive sharing behaviors and many solutions you can try to help your toddler begin to learn the importance of sharing.
And if your toddler does end up throwing the fire truck down the stairs, remember that your toddler is still developing the emotional capacity for sharing and that with more maturity and practice, your child will learn to share!
Jen Bradley is a blogger and content creator based in north Texas. As a mom of five kids, she is passionate about helping other moms find joy in the day-to-day work of motherhood. Grab your free Menu Planning Printable pack from the Free Printable Library (with over 40 other resources!) on her website, Jen Bradley Moms Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest