Here’s what we see as parents: Grabbing, hogging, possessiveness, selfishness, squabbles, tears!
Here’s the view from inside your 3-year-old’s head: Hey…that’s mine. Why are these other kids taking my stuff? Hey…that looks like a fun toy. Why won’t she let me have it?
It’s enough to make us want to cancel all playdates until college.
“Learning to share is one of the hardest jobs in life,” says pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, in his classic guide Touchpoints: Birth to Three. He’s specifically talking about 3-year-olds!
WHY it happens:
Friendships are becoming more and more important. Being more social brings more social snags for emerging preschoolers.
By 3, kids are shifting from parallel (side by side) play to interacting—but they’re still mastering the fine points, including appreciating how others feel in different situations (like when they grab a toy out of a playmate’s hand). Over time, they learn that to have a friend they have to behave in certain ways that make others happy, like being generous.
Sometimes kids have trouble sharing because of the situation at the moment. Maybe they’re concentrating hard on mastering a skill (stacking blocks, riding a trike). Maybe a particular toy is so new and mesmerizing, or beloved and special, that they feel protective of it.
“Plays well with others” is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen automatically. Kids need lots of practice trying—and that includes failing at it.
- Avoid viewing “teaching sharing” as “forcing sharing.” The goal is to inspire kids to share because they see that it’s the kind, good thing to do—not just because someone else wants what they have. Forcing or hectoring them to share is unfair to a child who’s immersed in something and doesn’t help them learn how. We don’t want doormats any more than we want selfish kids. A corollary of sharing is learning to wait your turn, be patient, and be okay with a little disappointment when you don’t get what you want instantly.
- Recognize that not all toys are equal to your child. Along with a love of friends, 3’s are developing a strong sense of ownership, and some toys feel like an extension of themselves. Let them have some special toys they put away when friends are over. Likewise, before going to a playdate, suggest bringing one special toy they don’t need to share, and some others that they feel ready to share.
- Teach some social phrases that help kids negotiate: “I’m not finished with that yet.” “Would you like the yellow truck while I use the red one?” “Can I have a turn?”
- Be more of a helpful guide than a hoverer during play. Good: Saying things like, “First Aidan can ride the car in a circle; then you two can switch.” Not so great: Forcibly directing the kids toward even-stevens. Try a timer (it’s neutral!) if needed.
- If you see your child is really having trouble, consider some of the reasons. To the block-hog who’s working hard, you might say something like, “When you’re ready, maybe you can give Jack a few blocks so he can try his own.” That can give your child a few transition moments she needs. Or if your child seems possessive about a toy, grant a little space instead of pushing at the moment, especially if it’s not chronic behavior.
- At bedtime, talk about any sharing your kid got right: “Did you notice how happy Olivia was when you let her use some of your dinosaurs?” Even small acts of sharing deserve lots of positive reinforcement.
- Practice sharing and turn-taking outside of play. Take turns as a family washing hands before dinner, for example: “Now it’s your turn.” Offer to share something yummy off your plate, which models both how to share and how nice it feels when someone else does it.
Sharing IS a hard job!
Photo: SIM USA/Flickr