by Alix Tonsgard

Most of our young visitors are of the mindset, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too!” Some of our grown-up visitors may get upset when they see their two-year-old not sharing something. You can facilitate your child’s understanding by, first, understanding what they are capable of and, secondly, creating an environment that helps children become aware of other children and each other’s boundaries.

Why is sharing so hard? For starters, young children have not yet developed what developmental psychologists call theory of mind, which essentially is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Developing this capacity is a significant milestone that most children do not achieve until about 4 years of age.  

We can help! Here are some suggestions to try:

Make sure there is plenty to go around! This supports a child’s sharing abilities while maturation and perspective-taking experiences are developing.

Reflect their feelings. For example, a two-year-old is upset because they want to play with the fire truck but someone else is already using it. “She is playing with the truck right now. You can have a turn later. It’s OK to feel upset. Waiting is hard!”

Talk it out! Sometimes you will have to wait out a meltdown, but acknowledging the way that they are feeling sends them the message that their feelings are understood and are valid. This in turn helps develop the ability to step into another’s shoes.

Give them tools. Not physical tools, of course. Turn-taking battles can often get physical. It’s the reality of toddlerhood. Be firm, calm, and clear. “Pushing is not safe. Next time you want something you need to ask first.” Then put an upswing to your tone and help them practice saying, “Can I have a turn?”

Let’s face it; sharing really is hard, even for adults sometimes. It takes years of practice to learn these skills. Rather than getting frustrated, stop, breathe, and remember that in these moments you are helping your child develop powerful skills that they will need to succeed once they head off to school and will carry with them throughout their lives.

Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum.