How to Teach Sharing

First, I want to say that it’s totally normal for toddlers to not want to share. Children are born selfish beings and as explained by Piaget, the developmental psychologist, children are egocentric naturally. They don’t learn things like “thinking from another person’s perspective” or “thinking about how other people feel” until closer to four or five years old. 

Sharing is one of the toughest things to teach and I really don’t start teaching the concept of “sharing” until a child is close to two years old. I used to work at a preschool in California for years where I was teaching sharing daily and these are the “3 Stages of Teaching Sharing” that I developed and used then and now as a Speech Therapist in San Diego, California.

Stage One: Trading Identical Objects

Before I even get into sharing, I teach kids to trade. To clarify, trading is when you have two of the same objects like two glue sticks, and you exchange them. It’s not as upsetting to a child to trade when they’re going to get the same item in return. Don’t do it with other kids quite yet, but keep it just between you and your child. Get them used to making a trade with Mom or trading with Dad before you try and do it with another child or sibling. When they do release that glue stick or the same object to you make sure to praise them saying something like, “Wow. I like that trading.” Make sure to name exactly what it is that they did to make you happy. It’s really important to explicitly name what they’re doing and tell them that it was good. So rather than just saying a generic, “Good job” it would be better to say something like, “Good trading. I like that trade.” That way when you want them to trade with another child later and you say, “Please trade,” then they’re more likely to remember what trading is.  

Stage Two: Trading Similar but Different Objects

Once they’re used to trading identical items, the second stage is trading items that are similar but still different. So, for example, you may have two Play-doh tubs but they are different colors. It may not be easy at first. Maybe your child loves the yellow play-doh and they don’t want to trade, but you’ve been praising them so much that they want to please you and so they trade. So follow the same steps as in stage one and once your child has mastered trading items that are different, then they are ready for actual sharing.

Stage Three: Sharing

It can be really hard for toddlers to let go and release an item when they’re not going to immediately get an item back. Sharing means that the child may be empty-handed for a moment and have to wait to get the item back. And toddlers don’t like waiting right? So what I recommend is, if you’re practicing between the child and yourself, then count. For example, “Okay, it’s Mommy’s turn. Let’s count, Mom is going to use it for one, two, three, four, five. Good waiting. Here you go. Good taking turns.” I suggest counting to five, but make it a little longer five seconds and then say “Oh, it’s Mom’s turn. Okay, here we go. Mom’s turn.” Praise them when they release the item. Over time, you can make the turns longer. So at first, it’s five seconds, then it’s ten seconds. And if it’s done in a kind and fun way like a game, they’ll probably be fine with you having that item longer.

Once they’ve gotten used to releasing an item and taking turns with an adult, then you can try it with another child and that’s going to be challenging. Maybe try it with an older child that’s willing to be patient. So you can count or you can use a timer. I love the timer because there’s a sound rather than me telling them times up. Try this in small amounts of time and then lengthen the time after a few turns to get them used to longer and longer periods of waiting to take another turn with an item, okay? 

Teaching sharing is a process and it’s not going to be an overnight thing. It requires a lot of adult mediation and guidance but you can do it! Leave a comment below to let me know how this process went for you.

Happy talking with your little toddlers!

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