Toddlers are naturally possessive. Growing children have attachments to things as well as people, which is a normal part of development. Don’t expect a child under about two-and-a-half to understand sharing. A three or four-year-old may be more prepared to hand over items, especially if they’ve repeatedly seen that sharing doesn’t mean giving up things for good. Depending on their temperament, a five-year-old may also have difficulty relinquishing certain objects, particularly those that are precious. By the time they reach six, most children are capable of empathy and can understand that sharing can make other people happy.
They don’t understand why they have to share. Getting cross with them is only going to make them upset and they’ll associate being told to share with being unhappy. By all means try to distract them if you can – for example, offer them another toy if they are refusing to give up the particular thing they’re playing with to someone else – but if this tactic doesn’t work, don’t grab the disputed object off them.
One way to get your child used to sharing is to start doing it when they are very young. Once they can grasp an object, ask them to please pass it to you, hold it for a short time, then pass it back. Say, “My turn, your turn”, and thank them for sharing with you. This will help them to learn about taking turns. Other ways of learning this include taking it in turns to stack blocks on top of each other or turn the pages in a book. Once they’ve grasped this, you can remind them that sharing means taking turns, not giving something up for good.
Children learn by watching what you do. Make sure they see you sharing with other people and that you are happy to do it. Also share with them – share your comfy chair, ask if they’d like to wear your nice, soft scarf for a while and offer them some of your ice cream. Tell them that you like sharing things with them. The more generous you are, the more generous they are likely to be.