How we introduced our toddler to sharing; the five simple strategies we used to take the stress out of sharing.
Learning to Share
As a former only child and the oldest cousin Alfie had very little opportunity to learn how to share. He was used to quiet babies who lay placidly in their corner and didn’t interfere with his things. Once Indi started to make a grab for things – HIS things – he had a lot of new feelings to deal with!
The first time I asked him to hand her back a toy ended in him clutching it to his chest and screeching as if I’d scalded him. Since emotions were high I let it go because right then his need for the item was greater than hers.
As an adult my job is to diffuse high tension situations by helping him to understand his emotions and act on them in a safe way without any judgement. Sharing toys is a child’s first experience of giving and seeking consent (read more about why this matters here: How to Talk About Consent with A Toddler) so it’s important we get it right!
A Lesson in Sharing
When he’d calmed down I handed Indi a fresh toy that he hadn’t been using and the two of us played with it and chatted while Alfie gave us curious side-eye. When she was done I took it back and thanked her and had a little play myself before putting it back on the shelf. I did this once or twice without saying anything to Alfie.
Later that afternoon Alfie decided he was ready to share. He offered Indi the toy I’d asked him to share earlier. He let her wave it about a bit before taking it back. This happened without my involvement or guidance.
He now shares items with Indi voluntarily and when asked to.
5 Ways to Teach Your Toddler to Share
Going from being an only child to the older child is a big change. Here’s how we are setting Alfie up for successful sharing.
1. Sharing isn’t compulsory.
There’s certain things that are precious to me and that I will never share – a perfume my Dad bought me before he died, my morning coffee, my secret boards on Pinterest (hello Harry Potter Fanfics!) so don’t even ask. The same goes for kids, certain things are not available for sharing!
Alfie got a brand new toy a few days ago when one of the pieces found it’s way into Indi’s hand he took it back and screamed “NO Alfie’s!” I asked him if there was something else she could use and he found her an old wooden rhino.
Equally if Indi is holding something and Alfie snatches it I return it to her and give it to him when she’s done. As always consistency is key.
2. Communal space.
Alfie and Indi both play in the same area, the shelves are open and toys will be available to them both as soon as Indi is mobile. I think this set up naturally encourages co-operative play.
For safety’s sake Indi has a small shelf which has her toys on it. Alfie is learning that there are things he can and can’t offer his sister, I encourage him to choose the items from her shelf when he wants to share.
3. Sharing will end.
As he became familiar with sharing his things Alfie started to notice a pattern. He would let Indi play with one of his toys and before too much time had passed he would have his toy back.
We recently had a party and lots of young guests. Before everyone arrived I found a couple of quiet moments to explain to Alfie that all these children were looking forward to playing with him and his toys, I also explained that they would leave and he’d have all his toys back.
4. Recognise effort.
Montessori isn’t big on empty praise which is frequently confused with Montessori isn’t big on praise, however in essence healthy praise is just an expression of recognition and respect for effort made.
When Alfie started sharing I was careful to notice and praise him accordingly with something like “Oh thank you for sharing your pony with India…she’s done with it now and has given it back,” or “How kind to offer her one of your trains, I’m sure she’ll like playing with that.”
5. Model, model, model.
Share everything! Give the kids as many chances as possible to use your things and hand them back, to eat from your plate, to sit in your chair. This helps create in them the mindset of plenty. That there’s enough of everything to go around. As you do this narrate what’s happening and make your expectations clear, “you’d like to use this? Just one second, I’m almost done…here you go, please give it back when you’re done.” (Not only is this good for sharing but it’s good for helping them start to implement boundaries and seek consent).