Why Won’t My Toddler Share?

Sharing is a foreign concept to toddlers. Their perspective at roughly 1 year of age is me, me, me -- self-centered and egocentric. It’s not that toddlers don’t want to share their dolls, bears, blocks, or fire engines. It’s that they haven’t begun to grasp the idea, let alone know how to do it.

Here’s what’s going on in your child’s head when she grabs a toy and shouts, “mine!” -- plus how you can help her learn to share. 

Understanding the behavior
Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 2 are socially and emotionally wrapped up in themselves. They believe the world revolves around them and are determined to put their own needs and wants first -- aggressively, if need be. They're completely clueless that they may be hurting other people’s feelings.

That’s because at this stage of toddler development, children have yet to develop empathy, the ability to imagine how someone else is feeling and respond with care. It’s a pretty complex skill to master. In order to feel empathy, toddlers must first understand that they are separate individuals and that other people can have different thoughts and feelings than they do. That paves the way for them to imagine what another person might be feeling (like when a friend falls off the slide) and how they can respond in a caring way (helping her up or offering a teddy bear, for example).

Promoting sharing
Lay the foundation for sharing by helping your toddler develop empathy. Here’s how:

  • Model sharing. Whenever possible, show your child sharing in action. You might say, “This soup is delicious. I’d like to share it with you. Do you want some?” Your toddler will learn from the example of your using kindness and respect when dealing with others.
  • Focus on emotions. When your toddler won’t share, identify the feelings that her behavior triggered: “When you took the ball from me, it hurt my feelings.” Similarly, it’s helpful to put a label on your toddler’s own emotions. You might say, “I see you’re upset that your friend took the blue block. It’s OK to be angry.” It may take a while for the message to sink in, but calling attention to emotions is a good way to begin raising awareness of other people’s feelings.
  • Practice with play. Act out scenes of sharing and not sharing using your toddler’s toys. How does it feel when her favorite train won’t let the other trains ride on her tracks? Demonstrate how to take turns. And when your toddler does share or take turns, praise her efforts. It sends the message that what she’s doing is right, which will encourage her to do it again.

Be patient as your little one is reaching milestones and learning to share. With your expert guidance, she’ll be well on her way to sharing, caring, and becoming a good friend.