Your Toddler Refuses to Share: What Should You Do?

angry toddler

If there's one thing toddlers hate with a passion, it's sharing. It's probably responsible for more fights, tantrums, and meltdowns than all other sources of upset combined. And while parents may be embarrassed to see that their child can't fathom handing over their sand shovel or Elsa doll for five seconds, experts say this selfish behavior is completely par for the course.


"A resistance to sharing is common because toddlers have not developed empathy -- an understanding of another child's feelings -- until they're around 2 years old," says Kelly Tonelli, PsyD, a psychologist in Irvine, California. Toddlers also lack an awareness that there will be plenty of opportunities to play with the item later. "Toddlers live in the present," Tonelli continues. "So they think, 'If I share, I am losing it forever.'"

Eventually, as toddlers learn how to anticipate the future and see the world through others' eyes, they won't mind forking over prized possessions to others. But until that happens, parents can gently coax their kids to exercise their skills at sharing with the following strategies:

  1. Encourage your child to put himself in other kids' shoes. Parents can model empathy to help their child develop this skill. For instance, if your child is reluctant to relinquish his Tonka truck, say, "Look how sad John is that he can't play with your toy. What do you think we could do to help him to feel better?"
  2. Teach your toddler how to take turns. Show your child that in between the black-and-white of "mine" and "yours," there's a middle ground called taking turns. There should be balance: for example, tell your child, "You can play with the doll for five more minutes and then it will be Jennifer's turn."

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  3. Convince your toddler to share less coveted items first. To ease toddlers into sharing, start out by encouraging him to share items that he's less attached to, like blocks or crayons. Then work your way up from there. To further reduce conflicts, "make sure you put away your toddler’s blanky or other precious belongings before the playdate," says Madlena Rozenblyum, a licensed child counselor in New York. The more coveted the item, the harder it will be to give up.
  4. If your toddler shares something, praise him to the hills. Remember, sharing is unnatural to toddlers, so if they do break from their toddler ways and give something up, you should slather them with praise. Say: "I'm so proud that you're sharing your favorite toy/book/stuffed animal with a friend!" This will encourage them to share more in the future.

What quirk of toddlerhood did you find the most challenging?


Image via leungchopan/shutterstock

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