“It’s mine!” screams a 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, I want it!”
At times almost all young children have trouble sharing. While eighteen-month-olds grab toys from each other, conflicts over sharing peak between the ages of two and two and a half. Episodes of screaming, crying, and grabbing are not uncommon when children struggle for a toy.
Because a young child’s thinking is egocentric, he sees things only from his own 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, 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-a-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 selfish or behaving inappropriately.
But once you realize that trouble with sharing is a normal aspect of development, you’ll feel more comfortable and tolerant. Talking to other parents about sharing may also 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 about sharing his things.