Dr Natalie Cheatle and Dr Annika Clark from The Parent Space are offering some great advice on how to tackle this problem.
It’s normal for children to find it difficult to allow another child to play with their toys or give something that they are enjoying playing with to another child. However, we generally want our children to be kind and popular and the ability to share is a very important part of their socialisation.
Developmentally, things usually progress as follows:
Infants (under 12 months): Tend to share things willingly (eg food or toys) because they like to interact with others and learn that this keeps interactions going. They do not yet understand “ownership” and will often not react if someone takes something away.
12-24 months: At this age they are often quite generous with sharing and have learned that this can start and maintain play with others. Towards the end of this stage, they begin to see themselves truly as separate beings from others and the concept of “mine” comes into play, coupled with greater resistance to sharing.
Over age 2: At this age, children will generally only share willingly if they either want to please someone or they are encouraged to do so with some sort of direct benefit. The benefit could simply be to keep an interaction going, but often more explicit encouragement is needed, with plenty of praise for even small signs of sharing.
- Praise efforts at sharing, being specific about what you liked that your child did.
- Play turn-taking activities with young children as this is a natural pre-curser to sharing.
- If you are having a playdate in your house, check with your child beforehand if there are one or two special things that they would not want another child to touch – remove them.
- Talk in advance before another child comes over about what toys they will offer the other child and discuss what they might play with together. This pre-warns your child that you would like them to share.
- Remind your child that you will not let any of their toys go home with the other child, even if the other child asks or even if they want to give something themselves at the time (they often regret it afterwards and this can lead to greater resistance to sharing another time).
- Talk about how much fun it is to play with other children’s toys when they go to another’s home.
- Also remind them that children will want to play with them more and invite them back more if they share their toys.
The social embarrassment when your child refuses to share can be very difficult to manage, however it is important that sharing doesn’t become a battleground between parent and child. Being forced to share makes children even less likely to do so voluntarily next time. Instead, take your child to one side and remind them of the things above but avoid using coercion, threats or making your child feel guilty, all of which will leave your child feeling resentful and are likely to backfire in the longer term. On occasion it is necessary to step in and take charge to ensure your child is giving other children a turn but also remember to gently intervene if the other child is also not sharing.