We all would love to see our baby share everything from food to toys, without prompting or reminding.

But the truth is that expecting our child to share on demand is unfair, and unrealistic even for an adult.

Think about it: most of us have no problem sharing our meal, or our clothes with people we know, even with people we don’t know. But would you lend your wedding ring to a stranger you just met in a park? How about the key to your home? Yet we expect our children to do just that: share everything, including their most prized possessions (toys) with anyone who asks for them.

Instead of “forcing” your child to share indiscriminately, look at the situation from your child’s point of view first. This will help you teach the value itself, not the habit.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in order to share, baby first has to form the concept of ownership, which doesn’t happen until sometime after their first birthday. At first, they can’t recognize the difference between what belongs to them, and what belongs to others. Once that is learned, they still have to learn the difference between sharing and giving. This will make sharing much easier, because your child will understand that when they share a toy with someone, it doesn’t mean that they will never see it again.

Until baby has learned the above, there are many things that you can do to help them learn to share.

Sharing Tricks and Tips for Beginners:

  • Model by example. Share everything you can with your baby. Say the words as you do it “I like to share [my necklace] with you”. This helps baby understand what sharing means
  • Start by asking your baby to share their food. Young children love to feed their parents, and they will willingly take part in this activity
  • When sharing your things, ask for them back. This will help baby understand that when they share, they will also get their things back. Simply say “I shared it with you, now I would like it back”.
  • Keep it simple – only use the word “share”. Do not confuse baby by using alternative words like borrow, lend, return, or any words associated with the act of sharing and returning. This way, you reinforce the concept clearly, which helps your child learn it quickly and easily.
  • Begin with short sharing episodes. Ask your baby to share their toy, play with it, then give it back within less than one minute. Over the next few weeks you can slowly extend that time, but still keep it under 5 minutes, so baby realizes that when you say “share” it always means that you will return it.
  • Positively reinforce your baby’s efforts. Simply say “thank you for sharing with me, it makes me happy!” Don’t say “nice boy” or “nice girl”, which implies that they are not nice if they are unwilling to share at a particular time. Children should share because they find pleasure in making you happy and in sharing not because they are afraid of being a bad person. Remember to teach the value, not just obtain a desired result.

Once your toddler is comfortable with the concept of sharing, you can practice sharing in social settings with other children similar to how you would in the park

Tricks and Tips for Sharing with Others:

  • Bring plenty of toys so your child can share and not have to wait for a turn to play.
  • Leave all your child’s favorite possessions at home to avoid forcing your child to share them.
  • Play alongside your child to demonstrate how it’s done and to reinforce and encourage your child. “Thank you for sharing your pail with me”; “Your new friend is very happy that you are sharing with them! They like to play with you!”. This also helps your child understand that sharing is a good way to make friends.
  • Know when to leave. If your child feels overwhelmed, calmly and discretely leave the playgroup, without reprimanding your child. Talk about the experience: “Sometimes it’s hard to share our toys with people we don’t know, isn’t it?”
  • Respecting their needs. If your child is playing with a toy and another child wants it, don’t force your child to share. Instead, support your child and model the correct behavior. For example, you could say “Sam is playing with his toy right now, but he can share it with you later” or “Sam brought other toys that you can play with”. Your child will then have the skills to share, while respecting his own needs.


Originally published with Huffington Post July 2013.