My toddler’s favorite word is “mine.” Usually hollered at a decibel reserved for heavy metal music. “Nooo” is a close second. As embarrassing as this can be — especially on playdates and in the church nursery on Sunday mornings — this is a common toddler behavior. We humans (especially mini-humans) are inherently selfish creatures. Sharing is unnatural. Sharing is a learned skill, developed over time. But an important skill, nonetheless. No one wants their kid to be the little shi* on the playground. So how do we, as parents, teach them this valuable life lesson?
Be an Example
Kids learn to share — and other desirable traits — by imitating what they see us (the grownups) doing. So we must model good behavior and model it often. Eating an Oreo? Spy your toddler watching you enviously from her high chair? Share the Oreo. Ask her, “Would you like some of mommy’s cookies? I will happily share my cookies with you because I love you, and I know that my cookies will make you happy.” And then next time, be smarter. Hide in the pantry with your Oreos. Only half kidding. Then, when your toddler attempts to share in return, praise her—big time. Make a big freaking deal out of it! Kids respond well to this. Repeat often. Because when you are trying to teach your toddler a new skill, consistency is key.
Toddlers are notorious for “pretend sharing,” or “psych sharing.” Do you know what I mean? Like “Here, look at my pretty, shiny toy. Want to touch it? Psych!” Even though this isn’t exactly the desired outcome, it IS a step in the right direction. When little Tommy does this — praise him and then encourage him to take the next step. Tell Tommy it would be nice to let Jackson see the toy for a bit. Assure Tommy that Jackson will return the toy when he is done playing with it. Don’t worry. Eventually, Tommy will learn to share on his own. The games and the mind tricks won’t last forever. And in the meantime, there’s always wine.
It’s inevitable. When two or more children are gathered together to play, fights and (loud) arguments are sure to ensue. Why not hide the beloved toys — the ones most likely to cause the most drama — high on a closet shelf before the company even comes a calling? And then insist that your toddler will share whatever toys are left. When tempers start to flare, don’t be afraid to correct — but not punish — your child for his or her behavior. Then divert attention with an entirely different activity, like playing outside. Or break out the Oreos. Either way. Whatever it takes to keep the peace, mama.
Psychologists tend to agree that punishing a toddler for failing to share is a bit unfair — after all, sharing IS a foreign concept. And most toddlers will begin to grasp this concept after the age of two. But don’t be afraid to let your child know that the world does not revolve around her. All of humanity will thank you later. Time out is a perfectly acceptable form of correction in the interim. Especially if she throws an ugly hissy fit, make sure she knows this is unacceptable.
It’s fairly simple. If you were a toddler, would you want to be friends with your toddler? If the answer is no, you know you have some work to do. Kids learn. Eventually, we just have to love them through it. And try to remember that we were once little turds ourselves. And see? We grew out of it just fine. Besides, I get the feeling this whole sharing thing is just the tip of the parenting iceberg. May the universe be with you!