It is exciting to witness every developmental milestone your child achieves. Sharing is an important milestone in a child's development that is often overlooked amongst all the different developmental stages. Learning to take turns is a significant social development in children.
It is natural for children to grab their toys and refuse to share them with other kids. Just as you know that your child will learn to walk only when he/she is physically ready, when your child is socially ready, you can start with activities to teach a child to share.
Let us see why is sharing important for a child and how you can contribute to your child’s social development.
When do children start to understand the concept of sharing?
A two-year-old’s understanding of sharing a toy is quite different from a five-year-old’s. A one-to-two-year-old child may not have developed the ability to see others’ points of view as well as a three-to-five-year-old child does. Struggling to share is a normal part of a child's social development.
Around the age of 12 months, children learn to participate in interactive games such as pat-a-cake and use gestures to wave goodbye. They learn to pretend-play by the age of 18–24 months, such as feeding a doll or talking on a toy phone. They may imitate another child’s play but cannot play cooperatively with another child yet.
Children learn the skill of sharing and engage in interactive play by the age of three. They begin by playing with two or more peers and learning to take turns. According to some specialists, toddlers may enjoy playing and interacting with others, but they do not learn the concept of sharing and taking turns until they are four or four and a half years old.
How to teach your child about sharing?
How to teach a child to share is the immediate question that pops up in the parent's mind. While learning to share is not easy for kids, activities to teach a child to share can help him/her develop social skills and independence. While it may be frustrating to see your child struggle to take turns, the following are ways to teach your child to share:
- If your child feels threatened and becomes aggressive when another child tries to take his or her toys, calm your little one with reassuring words and explain in simple but direct statements that such behaviour is not acceptable.
- When two children want the same toy, try to slow things down and make some room for calm problem-solving. If your baby agrees to share, you may offer a long turn to play with the toy. Meanwhile, try to engage the other child in another activity. Setting timers for taking turns while playing can be a great rule to keep. A timer alerts them when it’s time to share the toy.
- During a struggle, while sharing things, acknowledge the feelings of both children and help the child who has to wait for a turn. Encourage children to come up with shareable ideas. This gives them the ability to be compassionate problem solvers.
- Praising your child for sharing toys works better than punishing him/her for not sharing. Play games that require them to share and take turns.
- Create consequences for not sharing, such as taking away the toy they are fighting over for a period of time, which prompts them to consider ways to share the toys.
- Practice sharing and taking turns in the family to set a good example.
How can I encourage my child to play with other children?
Here are a few ways to help your child learn to play with other children:
Set up an activity that allows two or three children to play together without having to negotiate for any items. For example, place plenty of crayons or toy animals to share. Introduce playdates but keep an eye on them and be ready to step in when they don’t want to share.
Older siblings may help in the process of learning to share and turn-taking. Before the playdate, discuss with your child the idea of sharing some of his or her toys. You may choose the method of parallel play. This allows children to enjoy each other’s company by sitting together and playing with their own sets of toys, without interacting with each other. You can encourage activities, such as hide-and-seek and dancing to music, where not much sharing is involved.
Learning to share is a slow and difficult process. As a parent, instead of dreading the moments of difficulty, you can turn them into opportunities to teach your little one about sharing and kindness. It’ll take some time, some failed attempts, and a lot of encouragement, but your child will eventually learn the value of sharing.
Great kids. Sharing is caring… And a great developmental milestone .
First Five Years. How and when to teach your child to share .
Malik F, Marwaha R. Developmental stages of social and emotional development in children 
Maclaughlin SS. Helping young children with sharing .
KidsHealth. Disciplining your child .
KidsHealth. Learning, play and your kid’s health .