His scream pierces across the playroom, I know it all too well, my toddler son’s whiny scream when he doesn’t get his way. It interrupts my conversation with another mom and we slowly walk over to assess the situation.
My son wanted the ball that another boy was playing with. Clearly, emotions were high, as tears rolled down cheeks of both boys. As we approached, they stopped fighting to see what the moms were going to do.
I kneeled down to eye level, spoke in a quiet, firm voice and told him he did not need to play with that ball right now. There were plenty of other toys (and other balls for that matter) that he could play with.
The other mom jumped in and said to her son, “Tommy, we need to share. Let Asher play with the ball.”
I looked up at her and smiled and said, “It’s okay, Asher doesn’t need the ball. There are plenty of other toys he can play with.” I’m not quite sure she registered what I was saying. She sort of smiled and then kneeled down to tell her son it was okay. I led Asher away to another toy and the conflict was over.
I am not worried about teaching my son to share.
I am concerned about teaching my son to be content with what he has, to wait his turn, and to realize that even in his little toddler world, whining does not get him what he wants.
I know toddlers understand a lot more than we give them credit for sometimes. Once, I said to myself, “Where is my phone?” and my son went to my coat, whined, pointed, and sure enough, there it was. He knows which of our dogs he can wrestle with and which one is the grumpy one. He seems instinctively to know when he is around a newborn, to sit and quietly look at the baby without totally squishing him.
When you put him in another room full of other toddlers with toys, however, you begin to see a pattern. Crying starts as soon as a toy is snatched from his hands or because he wants someone else’s toy. He will engage in parallel play when he isn’t really interested in playing with the other kids.
Two-year-olds are still too young to understand sharing
Research tells us that, generally, children do not fully understand sharing until around age five. Our children are better served to learn to wait their turn, or to move on to a different toy, than to try to understand the full concept of sharing. They are too young to grasp that if they share their toy, they will eventually get it back. All they see is someone taking their toy.
While any parent would be remiss not to encourage and speak to their toddler about sharing, the parent who insists their pre-toddler shares will find themselves banging their head against the wall. If my son was a little older and playing with a ball when Tommy wanted to play with it, I would help him learn and practice sharing skills.
Prioritize practicing what your pre-toddler can understand right now
I can teach my one-and-a-half year old son that whining about having another child’s toy will not get him what he wants. I can teach him that when mommy says no, she means no. (Although don’t ask me about giving him snacks galore to prevent toddler tantrums during car rides!) And even though he is at this complex age, full of big emotions, he does understand when mom tells him he cannot play with someone else’s toy.
Sharing and empathy are character traits that I can help him develop over time. He is at an age, now, that calls for conveying a stark difference between right and wrong in the simplest terms. He needs to learn that it is wrong for him to demand to have someone else’s toy. If he gets it, he won’t learn what sharing is, only that throwing a tantrum works.
At our next playdate, let’s agree not to force our children to share, and instead focus our energy on more important parenting endeavors. Sharing will come. All in good time friends. All in good time.