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Getting Kids to Share

Dear Debi,
I have a 3-year-old that will take toys out of other children’s hands, and cries if he doesn’t get to keep it. He seems to believe that all the toys are for his exclusive use only. How can I let him know that everyone can use toys?
Saniyyah, Lancaster, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Sharing is a developmental process
  • Kids don’t share in all situations
  • Provide enough materials and plan activities that promote sharing
Expert Advice
Ann Corwin Ph.D.
Ann Corwin Ph.D.
Parenting Consultant
Sharing is a developmental process. Toddlers don’t understand the concept, much less the act of sharing. They may begin to “share” between two or three, but that’s not always the case. Children don’t have the cognitive skills to reason until about the age of four. Until then, they are very concrete.

The “mine” syndrome your toddler exhibits, for example, has nothing to do with being aggressive, selfish or spoiled. But it has everything to do with the fact that objects at this age are like a part of themselves. Sharing for them, means giving things up forever. Children don’t know if they will ever get their object back and are not really sure as to what it means not to have it. Children can’t tell time; so expecting them to share for only a few minutes is unrealistic.

Although this is a controversial topic, I don’t think that children should always be told to share. Some people think that if a child isn’t sharing, you have to yank whatever they have and demand that they share it. Sharing is not only about giving and receiving a toy from another child, it is a much more complex and complicated issue. Sharing is about figuring out who we are. If something is yours, and you are aware of it, you are more likely to decide if you are going to share it or not.

Sharing is closely related to the idea of being, to the concept of… “who I am.”
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 11 years
My 2-year-old granddaughter, Queen, thinks that everything in the room is hers. If you pick something up she’ll claim that it is hers. So I made up a game. We pass a ball around in a circle, and as long as the ball comes back to her, she’s fine. With food she is the same, if I put out one bag of crackers, she’ll want the whole thing to herself. So, just like with the ball, I set out a bowl of crackers that all the kids can reach into. As long as she and the 3-year-old also have something for themselves (like a cookie) they’re fine. When they realize the cookie is just for them, they usually will give the other kids a bite.
Child care provider for 3 years
In our child care we have an area for the infants and the rest of the area for the older kids. When it comes to blocks we say, “When they’re on the ground, anyone can take them. But when they’re on a structure or someone has them in their possession, they belong to that person at that time.” We have so many things to play with that everyone seems busy. And although we have 6 tricycles, it always seems like they want the same one.

If kids can’t share, we let them work it out among themselves unless it becomes a power struggle. Then we work it out. Or we step in if there’s a child too young to express itself.

Sharing is not an age issue; the more they’re in an environment where they have to share, the easier it gets. For instance, if you have an only child, it may be harder for them to share at any age.
Parent Comments
Father of two
My 7-year-old’s bedroom door stays closed when he isn’t home because Jacob, his younger brother, wants to get in the room to play with his toys. I tell Jacob that he can’t play with Jared’s toys and that he has to wait until Jared gets back so that he can ask for his permission. I’ve noticed that since Jared began going to family child care, he has gotten much better with understanding sharing.

I encourage my kids to work together. My wife and I enforce the house rule, “Ask, but don’t take.”

Felt Board Stories Featured Activity:
Felt Board Stories
Space and Materials for Sharing Featured Video:
Space and Materials for Sharing
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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