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Katrina

Fostering Sharing in Toddlers

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Katrina    0

Many parents want children to be generous, courteous and cooperative.  They want their children to be sharing people.  Sharing is a life long process that we go through.  It is one of those areas in life that we constantly need to evaluate, define and negotiate.  Sharing may involve objects, emotions, space, the people in our lives, and parts of who we are. Yet we forget this when we expect toddlers to share their toys, space and the important adults in their lives with others. We also forget that the society we live in is mostly geared towards competition, individualism, ownership and personal worth.  Remember that sharing as a concept is something that is freely offered and not forced.  Sharing ultimately must come from the individual internally rather than forced from the outside.

Sharing comes up as children begin to actively interact with other children.  This usually happens in the early toddler years.  We need to be sure that our expectations of sharing are in tune to where a toddler is developmentally.  There are several factors that need to be present in order for sharing to be possible.  First, in order to share what is yours you must be able to understand what is actually yours.  This is a difficult concept for toddlers who are exploring the worlds of “me” and “mine”.  Toddlers must first have a sense of themselves as separate individuals from others.  Remember that toddlers have very recently started to learn to do many things on their own.  They are also in a stage of development where they have definite ideas about who they are and what they can do.  They realize how powerful “me” and “mine” are.  These words are huge and dominant in the vocabulary of most toddlers.  Yet they are still exploring what this means tangibly.  Toddlers often define who they are by what is theirs, “this is my truck”, “this is my shovel”, or “this is my mom”.  At times, toddlers think that an object is theirs because they are holding or touching it.  They do not realize that when someone else is playing with their toy then it will not be the other child’s forever, or gone from them forever.  Children must also learn to posses before they can share.  In the same developmental stage of understanding what is mine, a toddler’s task is to get and then to keep. Starting to understand what it means to keep sometimes and let go sometimes will help a child begin to willingly share.

Children need to know that there is enough to go around.  The toddler who is grabbing all the shovels at the sand box does not have the concept of numbers and “enough for everyone”.  Giving children lots of experiences of there being enough can help them understand that there is in fact enough many times.  Having more than one of the same toy or same kind of toy helps to support this concept.  When working on this concept, it is helpful to concentrate on neutral playthings, such as lots of cups, paintbrushes, snacks, play dough, or containers.

Children also need to develop a sense of time such as “later”, “after snack”, “before nap”.  Having a sense of time allows a child to take turns, also a part of sharing.  It begins to allow a toddler to understand that if they let a toy go, it can come back to them later.  Another element to sharing is the development of empathy.  Empathy starts to occur in the early stages of infancy as one infant cries when he hears another cry.  However, toddlers are still developing a sense of understanding that someone else has feelings that are separate from others.  We can support toddler development of empathy by teaching children to be aware of feelings, their own and others.  When children are taught to listen and respond to their own feelings and they are used to others listening and respecting their feelings, empathy happens naturally.  With a sense of empathy, children start to be aware of other people’s needs and wants, both concepts of sharing.

When sharing is forced, the control of the situation is being taken away from the toddler.  Toddlers are struggling with having control and independence.  If control is taken out of our power, we begin to feel helpless and feel the need to protect.  Sometimes you will see a toddler hoarding every toy in sight.  They get so focused by ownership that the main focus becomes defending all that is theirs regardless of whether they want to play with it or not.

Here are some strategies for fostering sharing in toddlers:

  1. Model sharing in your life with others and with your child.
  2. Express values about sharing throughout your parenting.
  3. Share not only objects but also yourself (your time, love, affection, talents) with others.  Children will value that these are also important to share.
  4. Respect your child’s needs (some things can’t be shared, we all have those things).
  5. Sharing is an abstract concept; make it more concrete by giving toddlers specific and tangible cues.  “You can play with the blue truck and Jae can play with the red one.  You both have a truck to play with”.
  6. Think about the play environment.  Meet in neutral territory like the park.  Hold off having play dates at your house if things are really difficult and try again at a later date.
  7. You and your child can decide together what things you will put away before a play date. 
  8. Have more than one of the same types of object when you have a play date.
  9. If your child insists on keeping something, try to find something together that the other child can play with.
  10. Discuss difficult sharing situations with your child.  Take advantage of a learning moment.  Talk about what you see, what your child and their friend are feeling and possible solutions.  Give children language about what is happening. 
  11. Acknowledge positive efforts at sharing, such as when a child spontaneously shares with others.

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