One moment your toddler couldn’t care less who plays with his toys, the next he’s howling the moment anyone touches his teddy. What’s going on and what can you do about it?
Sharing is a lifelong skill, so the sooner your toddler starts grappling with it, the better. But don’t expect it to be easy. Depending on your child’s temperament, it can take the best part of a year and sometimes even more to fully teach your child who to share and why there are actually benefits.
Set a good example
Offer your toddler a taste of your sandwich or a lick of your ice cream. Let him see you sharing your possessions with your partner, so he understands that everyone has to do it. ‘A sharing family will have children who share,’ says Dr Dale Hay, developmental psychologist at the University of Cambridge
At snack-time, most toddlers will snatch, not share. But instead of giving each child separate plates if your toddler has a friend round, cut fruit or snacks into pieces and put it on one plate, then go round saying. ‘One for Alfie, one for Alex, and one for Mummy’.
It can take the best part of a year to fully teach your child who to share and why there are actually benefits
It’s understandable that your toddler might not want to be free and easy with his favourite toys, so let him put a few away before a friend comes round. Then encourage him to choose toys he’s happy to share – you can even make a ‘share mat’ for all these things. What matters is that he starts to realise sharing toys can make the experience of playing more fun.
Once you start showing your toddler the sharing ropes – for instance returning a snatched toy to the child who had it first – try to keep doing it to reinforce the concept. Even if you know it’s going to provoke shouts and screams, stay strong. If you stop and start over weeks or months, the process will only take longer.
When your child shows even an inkling of understanding that he needs to share, jump in immediately and praise him. Say well done and tell him he’s a good boy for sharing, even if he does so unwillingly – he’ll get the idea eventually.
Rather than waiting for things to kick off at a playdate, practise sharing as much as possible.
‘When you’re playing, pass a toy round between you, your partner and other siblings, saying ‘now it’s mummy’s turn and now it’s daddy’s turn’,’ says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus. ‘Remember to tell him how good he is for sharing when he manages to wait for his turn.’