Getting a 3 Year Old To Share

Dear Dr. Ann, I have a 3-year-old that will take toys out of other children’s hands, and cries if he doesn’t get to keep it. He seems to believe that all the toys are for his exclusive use only. How can I let him know that everyone can use toys?
– Saniyyah, Lancaster, CA

Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor Advice

Dear Saniyyah,

Sharing is a developmental process. Toddlers don’t understand the concept, much less the act of sharing. They may begin to “share” between two or three, but that’s not always the case. Children don’t have the cognitive skills to reason until about the age of four. Until then, they are very concrete.

The ‘mine’ syndrome.

The “mine” syndrome your toddler exhibits, for example, has nothing to do with being aggressive, selfish or spoiled. But it has everything to do with the fact that objects at this age are like a part of themselves.

Sharing for them, means giving things up forever. Children don’t know if they will ever get their object back and are not really sure as to what it means not to have it. Children can’t tell time; so expecting them to share for only a few minutes is unrealistic.

Although this is a controversial topic, I don’t think that children should always be told to share. Some people think that if a child isn’t sharing, you have to yank whatever they have and demand that they share it.

Sharing is not only about giving and receiving a toy from another child, it is a much more complex and complicated issue. Sharing is about figuring out who we are. If something is yours, and you are aware of it, you are more likely to decide if you are going to share it or not.

Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor
Reprinted from A Place of Our Own
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