Why doesn’t my child want to share?

“It’s mine!” screams the young boy, yanking a toy from another child.

“That’s not nice,” his mother says. “Michelle is your friend and I want you to share with her.”

“No, it’s mine!”

At times almost all young children have trouble sharing. Even eighteen-month-olds argue over toys, although conflicts generally peak between the ages of two and two and one half. Episodes of screaming, crying, and even biting are not uncommon when children struggle for a toy. Sometimes the severity of the anger and anxiety that young children exhibit is incomprehensible to adults. One mother who took care of several young children described her daughter’s behavior during this stage as horrifying: “When Tali was two she would stand at the front door with her arms spread out and yell, ‘MINE’!”

What parents should try to understand is that a child’s possessions are important to him and that he feels violated if another child handles them. When a friend comes into a child’s home, the child suddenly is asked to give up his toys, to share with someone who usually doesn’t ask before using something. His biggest fear is that he will lose his toys, or that they will no longer belong to him. That’s why he screams and tugs at a possession, crying, “It’s mine!”

Because a young child’s thinking is egocentric, he sees things only from his point of view and is unmoved by his parents’ logical reasons for sharing: “Your friend wants to use this toy. How would you feel if he didn’t share with you?” The question doesn’t make sense to children these ages and it won’t change their behavior. A child also won’t be moved by his friend’s obvious distress at not having a chance to share a toy. One three and one-half year old child became interested in her toy vacuum cleaner only after her friend took it out of the closet to use. A struggle ensued between the two children until the mother intervened. “Jesse was using the toy first. How would you feel if your friend Niki took her toys away from you while you were visiting her?” The child stood quietly with a blank look on her face and said, “It’s my vacuum cleaner.” Such lack of concern for another’s feelings may be difficult for parents to accept because adult thinking is so different from a young child’s.

Parents who are frustrated or embarrassed by their child’s unwillingness to share may blame themselves or have negative feelings about their child, considering him to be bad or selfish. After watching him grab a toy, parents may become angry and try to force him to share. But once they realize that trouble with sharing is a normal aspect of development, they usually feel more comfortable and tolerant. Talking to other parents about sharing also may help. It’s helpful to remember that sometimes even adults have problems sharing. People argue over parking spaces and cut each other off during rush hour. And an adult need only imagine a visiting friend opening drawers and looking at personal belongings to understand how a child feels.

Understanding your child’s difficulty with sharing may bring some comfort, although you’ll still have to deal with struggles over toys. Unfortunately, there are no magic answers to the problems of sharing, but there are things you can try to lessen the tension. First, you can prepare your child. If a friend is coming to visit, say, “When Michelle comes over she’ll want to play with your blocks, your puzzles, and the sliding board.” Ask Michelle’s parents to send along a little bag of toys for your child to play with. Don’t expect your child to share all his toys when a friend visits. You may want to put away a few special possessions, or explain to visitors that there are some toys he doesn’t want to share.

If he grabs everything away from his friend, tell him, “Michelle’s using that now and when she’s finished, you can use it.” Then tell Michelle, “When you’re done with that toy, please share it.” Sometimes you may want to set time limits for taking turns, but understand that your child may be frustrated by having to give up a toy he’s playing with or trying to master. Imagine that you’re attempting to make a cake. You take out the ingredients, start to mix them, and then hear, “Time’s up! It’s Sharon’s turn.” You’d indignantly reply, “I’m not done yet!” and even a few minutes more wouldn’t help. That’s how your two- to five-year-old feels when forced to stop what he’s doing and take turns.

When the struggle over toys becomes intense, you can try to interest your child in playing with something else. Or it may help to offer him choices: “Which toy would you like your friend to use – the ball or the puzzle?” If he can’t choose, you choose for him. You may have to distract him by playing with him yourself or reading him a book. Although this can be frustrating, especially if you’re involved in conversation with another adult, you should recognize that conflicts among young children, and the resulting interruptions, are unavoidable.

Parents often find that sharing is easier if children play outside, if they play at a friend’s house rather than at their own house, or if they are involved in something together, such as coloring, using play dough, or painting. Whatever you try, though, sharing will probably still be a problem. As you set limits on the struggles, reassure your child that you understand what a difficult time he’s having. And remember to model the behavior you want him to adopt. If you are giving, if you share courteously, your child will eventually copy you. Children learn more from parents’ examples than from parents’ admonitions.

By the time your child is three or four years old, you’ll notice a general change in his attitude toward sharing. He’ll show less anxiety when a friend uses a toy and will begin to say, “Here, you use this,” or “Let’s both play with these.” When he’s four or five, he’ll begin to place more value on friendship. Eventually, he may be sharing more openly than you’d like, and you may find yourself saying, “Don’t let him use your bike – he might ruin it,” or “Don’t let her take that toy home with her.” In the meantime, though, you can help your young child get past his difficulty with sharing by being patient, understanding this developmental phase, and not applying too much pressure.

Picture Credit : Google