Mine! Why Your Two Year Old Can’t Share

“No!” was the rallying cry of the one year old, but “Mine, Mine, Mine” is the mantra of the two year old.

Toddler grabbing toy
Photo Sabine75|CC

It’s perfectly normal if your two year old isn’t sharing with others. Children are simply not developmentally ready to share until around age three. Children are very egocentric at this age and everything is about them.

Why Your Toddler Can’t Share

  • They need to “own” something first. Your two year old is thinking, “This is my arm, this is my leg, this is my toy.” Two year olds define themselves by their possessions.
  • They don’t understand time yet. If they share something, will it be gone forever?
  • They aren’t ready to empathize. Before they can share, they need to develop the social-emotional skills to understand how others feel.  In order to do that, they have to recognize their own emotions first.

When you force a toddler to share, you are actually teaching them it’s ok to take things from others. You’re toddler is thinking, “Why is mommy stealing my toy? Don’t you see how sad and mad I am.”

Rather than taking a toy away from your child, wait until your toddler is developmentally ready to share, closer to age three. In the meantime, try modeling positive behaviors to help your child learn to share.
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Ways to Encourage Sharing in Toddlers

  • Let the child have a full-turn.  The best thing to do is to allow children to have full turns with things rather than trying to get them to share. If your kid is on a riding toy, for example, let him finish and then someone else can have a turn. If you give them the confidence that they can have something for as long as they want it actually makes it easier for them to give things up later to others.
  • Introduce the words “share”, “all done”, and “turns”, but do not enforce.  Rather than disciplining a child or forcing a child to share, parents can model positive behaviors and communication. Try using phrases like, “It seems you don’t want to share right now, but you still need to be gentle.” or “It looks like she is not done playing with that toy. Let’s wait until she’s all done.”
  • Provide a positive reason to share.  When introducing “taking turns”, you can help the child understand how their actions impact others and start using feeling words. “She would be so happy to have a turn with your toy” or “Look how sad he is that he can’t play right now.” or “Look how happy you made her when you shared your train.”
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