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Trouble Sharing? Normal!


Written By Gracie Revland
May 19, 2021

I see it all the time. Parents get upset because their toddlers can’t get the hang of sharing. No matter what interventions the parents try, it doesn’t seem to eliminate it, and it’s frustrating. If you relate to this, I have good news for you. Trouble sharing is 100% developmentally appropriate.

baby holding dog not sharing

baby with teddy bear

Why Sharing is Hard

According to the 7 Stages of Cognitive Development, studied and written by a famous developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, children between 2-7 are in the preoperational stage. The child’s thinking during this stage is pre (before) operations. This means the child cannot use logic or transform, combine, or separate ideas (Piaget, 1951, 1952).

In this stage, children are dealing with egocentrism and centration.

Egocentrism refers to the child’s inability to see a situation from another person’s point of view. (McCleod, n.d)

Centration is the tendency to focus on only one aspect of a situation at one time. ( (McCleod, n.d)

How this affects sharing

Because of these aspects, they are unable to sympathize with whomever they need to share with. They don’t see their side and aren’t capable of unfocusing on themselves. Yes, they are selfish, but it’s not their fault, and it won’t last forever.

Socialization is a complicated concept at this age. They are interested in other kids and can be excited to interact, but because they can only see their perspective, playing with someone else can be difficult. They only understand what they want, and being patient with someone else is a challenging task. You often see children this age play next to someone without directly playing with them.

babies learning to share toys

How to Help

When trying to get a child to share, we often go with the sympathy route “don’t you think it’s time for them to have a turn?”, “if you don’t share with Johnny, he might get sad”, etc. The problem with these things is that they can’t see their side, so unfocusing on their feelings to refocus on someone else’s just isn’t going to happen.

It’s still ok to mention these things, as, over time, it could help them progress toward sympathy, but for now, other approaches would work better.

Praise, praise, praise when they share: Use the fact that they are egocentric to your advantage. Give them that attention for sharing by praising your child when they do so. Because it is about them, it’s easier for them to be willing to do it and understand it.

Redirect with a different toy: They have a one-track mind when playing, so once they have a desire for something else, they’ll move on. So redirecting them to something else can get them to give up the toy and give someone else a turn.

Set a timer: Patience, waiting for a turn, and switching turns are all challenging concepts. Telling a child who has no concept of time they can play with something for a minute and then they have to share is really confusing. Try setting a visual timer to understand better that it is time to give it up or when it is their turn.

What’s most important to understand here is that it isn’t you or your child when it comes to trouble sharing. It’s not a personality trait, and it’s not a sign of bad parenting. It is a tricky concept and is something they will grow out of. So don’t Get flustered or disappointed next time your child won’t give that ball up. Breath, laugh it off, try a different strategy, and know it’s normal!

APA Style Citation

Mcleod, Saul. “The Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development.” Preoperational Stage – Egocentrism | Simply Psychology, www.simplypsychology.org/preoperational.html.

Piaget, J. (1951). Egocentric thought and sociocentric thought. J. Piaget, Sociological studies, 270-286.

Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International University Press.

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Gracie Revland

Hi! I’m Gracie Revland •

One of the two mamas who created Supporting Chaos. It's hard to put into words how excited we are to grow this community of support! So all I can say is thank you so much for being here...