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My Toddler Doesn't Care if Sharing is Caring. Should I?

By Madeline Holler |

early childhood development, parent and children

Toddlers don't care if sharing is caring! Should parents?

We parents of toddlers should call a truce on the sharing. Why? Because kids at this age just don’t share. Which is not to say they’re not nice. I mean, my Earl’s a freaking sweetheart. But when that kid finds a toy he likes, he’s going to play with it. And tough luck if your kid wants a turn.

Am I raising my own member of a completely entitled generation? Man, I hope not.

It’s just that I get his brain isn’t quite ready to tell his heart what to do. If you hear me say, “Hey Earl! Let that kid have a turn!” be assured that I’m saying it just so you won’t hate me. I don’t actually think Earl’s going to want to share it.

Sharing isn’t caring when you’re a toddler. Sharing’s torture!

I’ve been doing this for years, pretending I want my kids to share just to keep the harmony and story time. But honestly, I don’t expect it (from my kid or yours), and I’m not embarrassed when Earl (or my other two, when they were his age) won’t comply. I’ve even gone as far as taking away the toy in question just to keep the peace (the other kid’s peace, since naturally my own kids usually start screaming.)

So I’m hoping every parent of a toddler will read Heather’s “Science of Kids” piece on Babble today. She explains in grown-up terms, what kids experience when we tell them to share:

In adult terms, it’s like when I sit down with my morning coffee and get absorbed by a book — the rest of the world falls away, and my attention is completely wrapped up. Asking a toddler to share what he’s working with (if it’s something in which he’s truly engaged) would be a bit like saying to me in that moment, “Now, you read that novel for five minutes and then give it to Tommy so he can read for five minutes.” I might comply, but I’d feel interrupted, confused, and probably more than a little annoyed.

Annoyed. Totally! Which is not to say we shouldn’t find ways to help them empathize, a first step in becoming a naturally generous and understanding sharer. But at 2? Early 3? In the give-and-take of communal toys, they’re really only ready for the latter.


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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “My Toddler Doesn't Care if Sharing is Caring. Should I?

  1. Kendall says:

    I’ve got to say that I don’t agree with this one. I have twin boys who don’t have a choice in the sharing department, and, at the rip old age of 2, they completely get and comply with taking turns. I think using the crutch of “they are too young to get it” is a slippery slope. I will say that one trick that has worked for me is to emphasize the idea of turn-taking rather than the more esoteric concept of sharing. Taking a turn with a toy has registered much more with them then when I say they need to share a toy. Perhaps because taking a turn implies their own turn will come around soon, while sharing may make them feel that they are having to give up a toy and have no idea when (or if) it will be coming back to them.

  2. Madeline Holler says:

    Wow, sounds like your twins are getting minute-by-minute lessons in empathy. That’s awesome! And I promise to share my son’s toys with yours should all three ever wind up admiring the same truck at story time!

  3. Natalie says:

    I’ll agree in part with both Madeline Holler and Kendall. I understand that it’s difficult for very small children to understand sharing, therefore, I’m not really that concerned when they don’t want to do it. I don’t care if other toddlers won’t share with my children, or if other parents make them. I do feel that it is my responsibility to teach my children, in the most developmentally appropriate way possible, the concept of sharing or turn taking. What really makes me laugh is when parents of babies get flustered about sharing. They get really apologetic when their 9 month old takes a toy away from another baby. Toddlers have some responsibility to share and take turns. Babies? No way! People seem to feel that their baby is defective in some way if it grabs toys.
    (BTW, any chance the good folks at babbble would put a link to toddler times on the main page next to the baby’s first year, etc? I often forget to look here, and it seems like the comments are slow on these posts.)

  4. Dee Ann says:

    I agree with Kendall on this–sharing means nothing to a two year old, but taking turns does, and I’ve always expected my kids to take turns starting around that age. I think hollering at a kid to share is pointless, even for kids several years older. But taking turns is the positive angle on that lesson, and not teaching it early sets up a parent for much bigger fights when the child is…well, much bigger.

    The novel analogy is a stretch, but let’s take it at face value: There is a computer, a ball, and a book. You’re reading, but your friend wants the book, too. You’re annoyed at the interruption. They’re annoyed that you won’t give them a turn. When your kids are adults, what’s the behavior you hope they would display in that situation? Teach with that goal in mind.

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