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  • Use These 6 Phrases To Help Your Child Understand What It Means To Share

    Child-directed turn-taking can encourage your toddler to share more.
    by Rachel Perez .
Use These 6 Phrases To Help Your Child Understand What It Means To Share
  • When toddlers don’t want to share, they are branded as madamot or selfish. But they are not at this stage yet. This is their egocentric phase where everything is about the self, and it shows through play.

    Child development experts have stressed that toddlers must not be forced to share and take turns. Many moms and dads think that by telling their toddler to share, encouraging them to give up a toy, or setting a time limit for taking turns are ways of teaching toddlers the concept of sharing. They help, but they may not always help achieve the goal.

    Why asking kids to share their toys may backfire

    Imagine a typical playdate scenario: One child grabs a toy from another. The parent or caregiver intervenes and returns the toy to the child who first held it. Then, the parent tells the child that he has for five or so more minutes to play before he needs to give it up because other kids are waiting for their turn.


    Five or so minutes later, the child is not at all done playing with the toy and is not ready to share. But he is still forced encouraged to do so perhaps with the promise that he can play with it again after the other child’s turn.

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    Heather Shumaker, the author of the book It’s OK Not to Share, explains that it is another way of forcing the child to share. When his play is interrupted, he may learn that sharing feels bad. When the parent dictates the terms of sharing, it's the parents who are sharing, says Shumaker, and not the child.

    Try child-directed turn-taking instead

    Look at it this way: A child who refuses to share is simply busy playing. He is learning since play is the best way they learn. To teach young kids how to share, Shumaker suggests practicing child-directed turn-taking.

    “When the first child willingly hands over the toy — it’s a joyous moment for both kids. That’s the moment when your child experiences the rush of good feelings that comes from being kind to others,” she explains.


    The child may be more encouraged to share because of the feeling of real generosity. “It’s a warm feeling. One she’ll want to repeat over and over – whether a parent is watching or not,” Shumaker added.

    Instead of pulling out a timer and directing play, Shumaker recommends the following phrases (with a few tweaks from us) to let the child keep a toy until he lets go of it voluntarily, :

    • “You can play with the toy until you’re all done. Are you finished playing?”
    • “Your playmate wants to play with the doll next, but only when you’re all done.”
    • “Hand this to your friend when you’re done playing. She’s been waiting for her turn.”
    • “I see he’s still busy playing with trains set. Let’s wait for him to finish.”
    • “When he’s all done, you can have your turn.”
    • “You’ll have to wait because we can’t just grab the toy from your playmate.”

    When you let a child decide when he’s all done playing with a toy, respect his turn regardless if he holds on to it for five seconds, minutes, or even hours. Shumaker says kids who take long turns may first need to feel secure as he may have been forced to share in the past.

    For the child who is waiting, it might be a little frustrating, but you can turn into a teachable moment as well. Learning how to regulate emotions is a life skill as well. Besides, time is a concept kids will eventually learn, just like learning how to be patient. What's more important is fairness and consistency.

    Fights during playdates among young kids are normal but don't step in right away. Click here to learn why kids need to learn to settle it on their own first.

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