Sharing is caring – or is it?

Well, of course it is. Sharing is a good thing, we all know that, but when it comes to our children and in particular our pre-schoolers, is it realistic to expect them to share?

We hear it all the time – “Come on Teddy, share the toy now, it’s Leo’s turn”. The fact that both Teddy and Leo are 2 years old (or thereabouts) seems to have no bearing on what we are asking of them and whether they actually understand the concept of sharing or not. In a social environment – whether that’s a pre-school, a parent/toddler group or whatever, there is an expectation that young children will share their toys and take turns – or even worse for them, share their own beloved toys at home with another child, on a play date. I can well remember the pressure of the glare from other parents when my young children (they are both grown adults now and really quite good at sharing!), refused to give up a favoured toy to another child, with me inwardly begging them to do so.

Think how often you have encouraged your child to share (possibly even physically taken the toy away knowing it will not go well) so that another child can have a go and then had to deal with your child’s tantrum. This is so hard for small children to understand and they struggle to manage their feelings and may try to snatch things back, hit out or throw.

So, let’s put it out there – sharing is very hard for young children, in fact most are just not capable of doing it. Developmentally, the concept of sharing for young children (roughly 3 and under) is impossible and is just developing at 4, 5 and onwards. Having the ability to take another little person’s thoughts, feelings and needs into account is just not something young children are able to do.  They are not developmentally ready at that tender age to understand that what they are playing with, isn’t solely for them and they should be offering this to another child to play with after 5/10 minutes or whatever the acceptable length of time is nowadays. It is also important to stress that having a young child who will not share is not a reflection on anyone’s parenting so let’s stop being Judgy Mcjudgeface!

Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage sharing and turn taking. We know it fosters positive relationships with others, encourages cooperation and more complex interactive play later on, teaches children about compromise and fairness and is key in nurturing empathy. But and it’s a big but, let’s lift some of the pressure off our children, and also parents, and be realistic as to where we can start with sharing, what should we expect and how we can support our young children to develop the art of sharing when your child is ready. As children learn to understand their emotions better and see the world from other’s perspectives, their ability to share increases.

How to encourage your child to share:

  • Children learn from their parents and those around them, so it is important to model good sharing.
  • Accept that sharing is difficult for your young child. Give them opportunities to practise.
  • Highlight good sharing in others – “Sam shared his toy with you really well, that was kind of him”
  • Give specific praise when your child shares – “Lovely sharing”. Back this up with a high 5 or a thumbs up to back up what is being said.
  • Play games that involve sharing and turn taking – now it’s my turn etc. Children often find sharing with adults easier as they are more predictable than other children – they give positive feedback and can judge when to give things back!
  • Remember your child doesn’t have to share all their toys. As an adult you are not expected to share everything either – if I come up to you at a playgroup and asked for your phone then you would probably say no! If you have people coming to you then ask which toys they want to share and put any special toys away.
  • When in a social situation, stay close to your child and encourage sharing and asking nicely.
  • Acknowledge it is hard to share sometimes and equally hard for your child to wait.
  • Allow children time to play with things – if another child wants a go, acknowledge their feelings too and use distraction ‘the bike looks fun doesn’t it? Jessie is still having her turn so shall we play with this while you wait?’
  • If your child snatches or gets aggressive state calmly in a low, slow tone ‘no grabbing’ or ‘no hitting’ so they are aware it is not ok. Reflect their feelings ‘it is hard sharing/waiting sometimes’ or ‘you wanted to play with it’ and stay close.
  • As they get older, give them the chance to resolve issues. ‘Looks like you both want the ball, what can we do?’ – they may surprise you with their ability to problem solve!

Learning to share can be a tricky and long process and one some adults still struggle with! As hard as it is, know that you are not alone in dreading these moments and that it is totally normal for children to take time to develop this skill – it doesn’t mean you are failing or raising a psychopath!

We run a company called Purple Parenting, offering parent coaching, parent groups & workshops and bespoke staff training for Early Years to KS2 .  Are you struggling to understand your child’s behaviour and how to respond? We offer a free initial chat to see whether parent coaching would be for you. Contact us through our website, Facebook/Instagram message or email on