Parents are obsessed with teaching their children how to share.
Spend just five minutes in a playground, and you’ll see a power struggle between two children while their parents apologize profusely at each other.
Parents fear if they don’t teach and remind their children to share, they will become selfish, stingy outcasts.
They fear judgment from other parents that they’ll be seen as inconsiderate and indulging their child.
But toddlers aren’t selfish if they don’t want to share; they’re just toddlers.
My Son Is Two Years Old — When He Is Reluctant To Share His Toy With Another Child, I Don’t Force Him To Give It Up, Even if the Other Child Is Upset.
You see, I understand that my son doesn’t have the cognitive maturity to view the world the way adults do. At two years old, he is the center of his universe. He has no concept of how others have different thoughts, needs, and wants than him.
Scientists believe the part of the brain that understands sharing may not be fully developed until four years old.
Toddlers are mainly interested in parallel play — playing alongside another child rather than playing together.¹ So, we need to change our expectations and stop encouraging young children to share their toys before four.
In Montessori Schools, Children Are Encouraged To Take Turns Instead.
Taking turns feels like a more gentle and cooperative suggestion than forced sharing. So, I apply this concept with my son.
You’ll often hear me say things like:
‘It looks like James wants to play with your toy. Perhaps you’d like him to take turns with you?’
Respecting his decision, even if he says no.
‘I understand you want to use James’ toy right now. If James wants to take turns, it will be available soon. Let’s play with the truck instead.’
At the playground, when using communal objects likes swings and slides, I take a similar approach:
‘It looks like the little girl wants a turn on the swing. Let’s have two more minutes play and then she can have a turn.’
‘I know you want to have a play on the swing, but the little girl is playing now. Let’s wait our turn. Shall we play on the slide while we wait?‘’
What I’ve noticed from offering these suggestions, rather than forcing him to share, is a calm and more cooperative interaction.
There is rarely a full-blown tantrum, but if there is, I can usually tell it’s not about the toy/object but another reason entirely (e.g., hunger or tiredness).
But What About the Other Child?
If another child becomes upset by my son’s decision not to share, I apologize to them and explain that he doesn’t want to share his toy right now, perhaps another time (and offer an alternative toy if applicable).
As my son matures and can talk properly and explain this himself, I hope I’ve demonstrated how to do so in a kind and considerate way.
Sharing is a choice and we have the right to say ‘No’, regardless of age.
The Importance of Role Modelling.
One thing my child has never had a problem with sharing is food.
My family often shares food, both at home and dining out, to make sense that sharing his snacks and lunch with others is not an issue.
In recognizing this, it reminded me how important role modeling is.
He doesn’t see us share our ‘toys’ (e.g mobile phones, cars and wallets) so asking him to share his toys is kind of hypocritical!
Playground Politics Doesn’t Need To Be Awkward and Embarrassing.
As parents, we are all in this together — all trying to do our best for our children and teach them right from wrong.
We need to stop judging each other on how well our children can share and appreciate their brains' development stages.
Let’s focus on teaching children patience, how to take turns and respecting other people’s boundaries instead — more useful skills to master for adult life.