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 do to try to lessen the tension.
First, you can try preparing your child (although this may not work). 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. Your child will be easily distracted playing with toys that aren’t his.
If your child grabs things from his friend, tell him, “Michelle’s using that now, and when she’s finished, you can use 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. This is what time limits can feel like to a child: Imagine you’re making 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 say, “I’m not done yet!” and even a few minutes more wouldn’t help. That’s how a child 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?” You may have to distract your child 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 sharing 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’re involved in something together, such as coloring, using play dough, or painting. Whatever you try, though, sharing will probably still be a problem. So have realistic expectations, understand sharing issues as a developmental phase, don’t put too much pressure on your child, offer distractions, and set limits on the struggles.
Also, remember to model the behavior you want your child to adopt. If you’re giving and if you share courteously, your child will eventually copy you. Children learn more from parents’ examples than from parents’ admonitions.