When do children learn to share?

As a parent of a toddler or pre-schooler, have you heard yourself or other parents say “Good boys and girls share their toys” or “Share your toys with your friend or he/she won’t share with you”. Sharing is an important skill that children learn as they grow up. We all want our children to take care of each other and be empathetic towards friends and family. When we expect young children to share their toys and books with other children, it is good to know that the ability to share grows with age.

Coercing a child to share with siblings or during playdates might lead to resentment and aggression. Adults are pushy because we are worried that our children will not learn to share or how will other parents feel about our child not sharing at all. However, constantly nagging the child and threatening her to share will not make her happy about sharing. Let us look at how play grows with age.



Why we must not force a child to share against his will?

  • Behind every behaviour, there is a need. Forcing would mean that his needs are not valued.
  • Young children learn through play and focused play helps in promoting concentration. When we interrupt a child and cajole them to share, we are unintentionally giving no importance to his learning through play.
  • A child might look at other children as intruders and may be scared to play with others. Often children react angrily and hit others.
  • Expecting small children to give up their things due to adults’ moral obligation tells them that anybody can take their things whenever they want.
  • Giving away toys is a problem situation for a child. Though not on purpose, we are indirectly teaching him to withdraw every time a conflict arises.
  • A child should feel safe to say ‘No’ and learn to respect when others say ‘No’.

Often too much interference causes negative feelings. What can we do to promote sharing in a positive way?

  • Trust the child. Humans are social by nature. They will gradually learn to share.
  • Children imitate us. When we share our resources within our family and friends, they learn looking at us. We prepare food and serve guests; it is a good idea to involve children in the process.
  • Sharing snacks and treats in a picnic/get-together can be rewarding and children love to do that.
  • We can teach them to share by showing them how to take turns during pretend play and other situations at home.
  • Children feel secured when we acknowledge their feelings. We can use words to describe how they are feeling and help them with alternatives.
  • With older pre-schoolers, we can discuss sharing. We can talk about how we should help others in need.

When they see us taking pride in sharing, they also learn empathy. This might take time but they will imbibe the positive behaviour from people around. It is also important to teach children how to ask for things from others. If we use polite language while requesting our children to give us what we want, they also learn to ask for things and not just take it away from somebody’s hands. We can say something like –

  • “Can you give me the red truck after you’re done playing with it?”
  • “Why don’t you ask your friend if she would like to play together?”
  • “Your sister would like to play with the blocks too. Let us give her a turn after you.”
  • “Your brother doesn’t want to play together at this moment. It is ok, you can choose something else.”


When children feel secure that others will not take their things against their wish, they don’t feel a need to take things from others.

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