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As soon as my toddler neared the double-digits, lots of new words began to grace her vocabulary. Along with cute and cuddly words like “doggy” and “kisses” came frustrating words like, “no!” and “mine!”
And to make it worse, those frustrating words are being yelled at an obscene volume any time mom or dad asks a question or, God forbid, someone picks up something she wants.
While I’m fortunate my feisty toddler’s development is on par, I’ve been working hard with her on the concept of sharing. Coming from a circus-like family with many brothers, sisters, and cousins, I had no choice but to share growing up. I guess you could say I’m pretty much a pro at sharing (and oversharing!)
Helping toddlers learn to share takes patience, cleverness, and calm coaching. But, don’t fret, your little one will get there soon enough.
Here are eight ways to teach your toddler how to share.
Change Your Perspective
You’re going to have to change your perspective on the word “mine,” or you’re going to go completely insane after hearing your toddler say it 230 times a day for the next few years. Everything within your toddler’s reach is “mine.” Yes, even that delicious mug of coffee in your hand. Because whatever mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma, or her friend has, she wants.
Though my child says “mine” whenever she wants to hold, touch, or play with something, I’ve deciphered what she means to say is: “Mommy, I want this right NOW.”
So, I’ve begun responding to her exclamations as, “yes, you can play with that” or “no, you can’t play with that right now. You can play with this (grab another toy, etc.)”
During these moments, try to focus on the concept of sharing. Sharing doesn’t happen overnight. Learning to be generous and empathetic towards others takes time, but the rest of these tips will help to speed it up.
Lead by Example
Yes, leading by example is one of the top tips, but I find sometimes we need to be provided with explicit instructions for it to stay ingrained in our mushy mom brains. Make sharing an everyday practice in family life.
During meal-time, start a designated “Sharing Stories” time where each person can share details of their day with no interruptions. Another opportunity at meal-time is to share food off your plate. Explain that, “Mama is sharing her mashed potatoes with Violet.” The next time, ask, “Will Violet share her crackers with Mama?” Give her kudos if she shares.
Another example, outside of eating (sorry, I like to eat), is when my daughter is doodling. When she is drawing, I will ask her if she will share the pencil so I can draw a picture too. And, when she responds with “yes, mama,” I am sure to thank her for sharing (and try not to explode with proud mama shrieks).
Prep Before Playdates
If you’re hosting, tuck away your toddler’s favorite toy that she couldn’t stand to have someone else play with in front of her.
For my daughter, it’s her two lifelike baby dolls. She has like ten baby dolls, but the real-looking ones are the ones she wants to play with every hour on the hour. If someone touches them, she will no doubt go awry. Once you tuck away the favorite toys, explain that the rest of the books and dolls are for all her friends to enjoy.
When you go to a play date at someone else’s house, first, talk about what to expect, then remind her of the fun toys to play with that involves sharing, like ball-rolling or building blocks.
When you witness your tiny tot sharing nicely with family members or other children, compliment them. Be specific and say, “You’re doing such a good job of sharing the Legos with Armin,” or “Wow, you are doing great playing dolls with Gracie.”
The positive reinforcement will help your child to remember the times that captured her mama’s favorable attention, and she’ll be more likely to repeat it at future meet-ups.
Don’t Be a Rescue Ranger
It’s soooo hard. So. Dang. Hard. When your little one takes a toy from a sibling or friend, try not to jump in. Sit back and observe—see how the kiddos handle it. Most often they will keep on playing without a care in the world.
Give your toddler a chance to work on her problem-solving skills. If we jump in all the time, our children will never learn how to work it out themselves. You may even be surprised at what solutions she comes up with on her own.
Stop the Tears
When there are tears or physical harm involved, address all matters immediately.
If your child’s toy snatching is making her friend cry, remind her, “That’s not nice. Ashley is playing with that,” then assist your child in finding another toy or activity.
When your child is in the opposite shoes, similarly, remove her from the situation. Then, redirect her attention towards something else.
Stand Firm on Hitting
Hitting, pinching, or any other type of inappropriate physical contact requires an immediate response. If your toddler is the culprit, remove her from the situation and say, “We don’t hit. That hurts!” Most toddlers don’t yet understand the concept of apologizing and are often too embarrassed to comply if they do.
Instead, I’ll walk my daughter over to the friend or family member, and apologize on her behalf. It’s crucial for your child to hear you acknowledge the bad behavior and that it is not okay.
Related: 20 Toddler Discipline Strategies Every Mom Needs to Know
Experiment with Different Methods
Our children are as unique as the stars in the sky. Some approaches work well for one child, and for the next, you need to jump through fire hoops, smother yourself in war paint and run through cornfields to provoke any positive response.
Experiment with various methods to see what works best for your child. If that means putting certain toys in time out when playmates are over or even playing Elmo and Ernie’s Sharing song before every dang play date, it’s worth a shot.
While we say, “sharing is caring” and often make light of sharing in other ways, sharing is a lot more complicated than parents make it out to be.
It requires your toddler to understand the concept of lending or giving. It involves holding two ideas in a toddler’s little developing brain (The doll is mine, but my friend currently has it). It also requires a general understanding of time (My friend will return the baby later). Lastly, they must understand certain things shouldn’t be shared, like toothbrushes or underwear.
That’s a lot to grasp for young, developing minds.
But, like with most everything in motherhood, with your patience, cleverness, and calm coaching, your child’s sharing abilities will soon shine bright, and you’ll be left wondering why you even worried about all this stuff in the first place.