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How to Get Your Toddler to Share and Play Nicely

Written by Debbie Channing. Toddler's won't naturally share Toddlers are egocentric, so expecting them to share willingly under the age of 3 is pretty unrealistic Young children often have difficulty sharing. It can be really disappointing and frustrating as a parent when you see your little ones arguing over a toy, crayon or any other item. It is important to bear in mind that this is a normal part of their development. When your toddler refuses to share his or her toys, they are not being selfish; they are acting appropriately for their age. Children learn by example, so it is vital that as parents we model how to share, by offering them opportunities to take turns and using the word “share” when we talk to them. For example, when you offer to share something with them, describe your behaviour. Tell him/her that you are sharing, and if your child copies, give them lots of praise. This positive reinforcement will encourage more of the same behaviour.

It's in their nature Toddlers are ‘egocentric’ – this means that they truly believe that the whole universe revolves around them. So expecting them to share willingly under the age of three is pretty unrealistic, however we do need to begin teaching them about sharing and turn taking from an early age. Even as a baby you can give your child a rattle, then take it and shake it yourself and then give it back for him to rattle. All the time talking positively about what you are doing e.g. “Can Mummy have a turn? Thank you for sharing!" etc. This teaches your child that sharing leads to more engagement and fun. Some items are not appropriate to share – such as keys, hot drinks, sharp cutlery, mobile phones etc. and you need to be clear that these are not toys and there is no playing with them. Children love to have other children around, but developmentally they play alongside each other rather than in a co-operative manner. If your child has ‘play-dates’ when others visit, it may be a good idea to put away favourite toys and inform your child that the remaining toys are for everyone to play with. Rules like this may easily get forgotten, so gentle reminders will help to keep them in mind. Give lots of praise when they are playing nicely. Reasoning with them is unlikely to help much Toddlers are rarely able to demonstrate empathy and see things from the other person’s point of view. Research indicates that this skill develops after the age of six. Therefore reasoning with them about hurting the other person’s feelings are likely to be ineffective. Guidance, warmth and praise from their parent/carer is a much more effective way to learn how what behaviour is ok and what isn’t. There are also rewards for sharing - they will have more fun and playing is even better. Sharing at Stay & Play sessions maybe more difficult than in the home setting, because the toys do not belong to anyone in particular and this can be quite confusing for a young child. Comment when your child is playing nicely or allowing other children to share toys - giving lots of smiles, hugs and positive reinforcement will help the child to regulate their own behaviour and adapt to social situations in a more appropriate way. If in doubt, try distracting them For the under 3s, the best course of action to take if things go pear-shaped is distraction. Move them to a different activity and engage their attention in something creative, another toy or a healthy snack. Remember that the child isn’t deliberately being challenging - it is a developmental stage, so never punish a child for not sharing. Let them know you are disappointed but don’t let it become a power struggle. Toddlers need gentle and firm support to learn so give lots of attention when they are doing welland remember to be patient and consistent. With lots of positive reinforcement your child will feel good about playing nicely with other children because of the happy response it elicits from you. In time, the sharing will become natural. ------------------------------------------------------------------- Debbie Channing is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts Parent Coach & Chief Executive of Time 4 Change, Debbie has over 20 years’ experience working with parents & children. For further information, support and advice please see her website - - or email her at