EXPERT Q&A

How can I help my children to start sharing their toys?

Young children often don’t want to share their toys, leading to tantrums and fits. CareNectar expert Shenley Seabrook provides guidance to help you teach children how to share.

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Question

I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old who always seem to want to play with the same toy. They throw tantrums when they cannot have the toy all to themselves. I try to redirect them and offer different toys for them to play with, but nothing seems to work. What can I do to help them start sharing?

Answer

Thank you for your question! I can tell that this is a frustrating situation and I’m here to help.

I think it’s helpful to understand that children at this age are typically only focused on their own feelings and thoughts. This makes it difficult for them to understand the feelings of others or their wants or needs. So even though tantrum behaviors can be difficult to handle, please know that this behavior is completely normal at this age.

Here are a few ways you can help your children with sharing behavior.

Narrate the situation. First, try narrating the situation. This helps children feel like they are being heard and understood. This can sound like, “Oh no! You and your brother want the same toy! He took it from you and you took it back, and now you are both crying. I know you are sad, but let’s make sure we are taking turns with our toys.”

Offer opportunities for turn-taking. Tell one child that it is their turn to play with the toy while redirecting the other child to a similar toy or a different activity. They might still make your child sad and may even lead to tantrum behavior, but you’ll want to make sure you stay firm with your expectation of turn-taking. The child who is upset while waiting for their turn might need some space to feel their feelings and this is okay.

Use a timer. One helpful suggestion is to use an hourglass, timer, or clock to help the children understand how much longer they will need to wait to play with the toy. Most children at this age don’t have a concept of time, so just telling them to “Wait your turn” can make them think they’ll be waiting forever. The addition of visual aids in these cases can make a huge difference.

Learning to share is a process and practicing the skill doesn’t always go well, but the more opportunities kids have to practice sharing and the more positive praise we give them when they do share, the more likely they will be to share in the future. Again, it can be helpful to keep in mind that this behavior has more to do with your child’s development than it does with your skills as a parent. It sounds like you are off to a great start with what you have tried so far!

Recommended Resources

Here is a list of books on sharing that you can read with your children.

Meet The Expert


Shenley Seabrook

Shenley Seabrook is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works primarily with children and adolescents in a private practice setting. She is also a foster parent and lives with her husband and daughter in Indiana. Shenley recently wrote her first children’s book, We Have the Same Heart, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community service.