Why Won’t My Toddler Share?

Blog Kathie Sarles

Before a child can share there are many skills they must develop, and many interactions they need to have. Sharing is a skill that is not mastered until preschool, as it involves others rather than the self. Toddlers are all about “me” as they interact with the world and relate to their caregivers. Babies explore the world from the inside out. As they mature and develop their connections are made from sucking, smelling, touching, seeing and hearing those around them. Caregivers respond to the baby’s actions, and that give and take is the beginning of their learning about themselves. As babies grow into toddlers, they see the world from a different vantage point and connect on a deeper level. They use their own deliberate actions ( gestures and movements) to indicate wants and needs and feelings. They show us how they feel and our responses may be more complicated, which can create confusion or dysregulation in a toddler who is just beginning to know the world has many new sensory experiences.Connection to other children at this point is fleeting and can be frustrating.

Toddlers experience many emotions, but do not always understand these emotions. It is this emotional turmoil that often cause melt downs and tantrums. Often they feel out of control and need to exert their power, which may end up in a tug of war with a preferred toy.They are so involved in trying to understand their own emotions and explore their world, that the only relationship that is important to them is the one with their consistent caregivers (parents).

Expecting a toddler to share on his own is not reasonable given their need to feel safe and in control. Exposing your toddler to other children is a great way to broaden their world and understanding, but just like with so many other skills, it takes repetition and time to really accept and participate in sharing. Here are a few ideas to try.

  • Go to library time or to the park and have your child see and connect to other children
  • Practice sharing in your home. You can be the “friend” who needs a turn with a toy, or who shares your snack with your child
  • Use the words, “My Turn, Your Turn”, when playing with a toy and then ask, “Whose turn is it?”
  • Be a narrator and give them commentary to help: “I see you want that toy, but David has it. You can be next say, “my turn next.”

Reflect feelings,“ It is hard to wait your turn, it makes you sad.”
“Learning to share with grace is a long process. Even some adults are still working on it! Rather than dreading moments of struggle between children, consider them to be rich opportunities to help children learn critical skills—in this case, self-regulation, empathy, and conflict resolution—all of which will help them become better at sharing.” Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter