Mine! Teach your lit­tle one how to share

Shar­ing your stuff is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult when you’re only three years old. Here’s how you can in­ter­vene when your sprog wants to hold onto every­thing and just re­fuses to let go

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents - YB

IMAG­INE HOW AMAZ­ING it would be to over­hear your three-year-old daugh­ter telling her best friend: “Of course, feel free to play with my favourite doll.”

Un­for­tu­nately, chances are the op­po­site will hap­pen. Your child will spot her friend putting the doll to sleep and shout at the top of her voice: “Give her to me! She’s mine!” Be­fore long all hell will break loose and there will be tears about who’s al­lowed to play with the dolly. And af­ter the adults have in­ter­vened and bro­kered the peace, the moms will each stand back and won­der, qui­etly dis­mayed: “Where did I go wrong to end up with a child who just re­fuses to share?”

Re­lax. Shar­ing doesn’t come nat­u­rally to any three-year-old. The se­cret is to be a pos­i­tive role model and use those “it’s mine” bat­tles to help your child re­solve con­flict.


At the age of two your child en­ters a new psy­cho­log­i­cal phase: au­ton­omy. She gets a sense of con­trol and re­alises she can do cer­tain things her­self. She starts de­vel­op­ing an in­de­pen­dent will and wants to be ever more self-re­liant. It’s the first phase of the “it’s mine” stage.

Tod­dlers be­tween two and four are also nat­u­rally self-cen­tred, says Liesel Vorster, an ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist from Worces­ter in the West­ern Cape.

Their world re­volves around them­selves, and they only have one point of view – their own. They’re so fo­cused on their own needs and im­me­di­ately sat­is­fy­ing them that char­i­ta­ble­ness just isn’t a pri­or­ity. In fact, their lit­tle brains aren’t yet ca­pa­ble of think­ing of oth­ers in that way. So they’ll eas­ily grab a toy and say “mine”.

“They won’t ask nicely, no mat­ter how hard we try to teach them,” Liesel says.

At this age, chil­dren don’t have the abil­ity to share. It’s not that they’re malev­o­lent, wil­ful or de­lib­er­ate – this at­ti­tude is a nor­mal de­vel­op­men­tal phe­nom­e­non at this age.

For­tu­nately, self-cen­tred­ness sub­sides by five to six years of age, and with that the “it’s mine” be­hav­iour also de­creases, Liesel as­sures par­ents.


Don’t try too hard to dis­ci­pline a twoyear-old child be­cause she doesn’t want to share. Try to re­mem­ber that it’s a nor­mal de­vel­op­men­tal phase and part of how her lit­tle nog­gin works at this age.

Ig­nor­ing her uncharitable be­hav­iour now doesn’t mean you’re rais­ing a self­ish child, but rather that you’re help­ing her de­velop her own will.

You should ac­tu­ally be thank­ful for this stage, says Hester Rabe, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist from Worces­ter in the West­ern Cape. “It con­firms that your lit­tle one’s con­scious­ness of her own per­son is well on track. These are the first steps to a good self-im­age.”

Chil­dren be­come more in­de­pen­dent from around three, and the chal­lenge arises when they are ex­posed to other chil­dren. Your child will then learn for the first time that she can only en­joy her in­de­pen­dence within cer­tain bound­aries.

“A room­ful of toys and other per­sonal be­long­ings now be­comes a train­ing ground, and she learns how much ini­tia­tive is al­lowed and about bound­aries and how far you need to take them into ac­count where oth­ers are in­volved,” says Hester. “Af­ter a long, hard process of give and take, she fi­nally learns a new skill: shar­ing.”

That’s why we should ac­tu­ally see this self­ish be­hav­iour as an op­por­tu­nity and be pa­tient while we teach our chil­dren good man­ners.

Also act pos­i­tively your­self. Rather than say­ing, “No-one will want to play with you when you do that, be­cause you make oth­ers sad if you don’t want to share,” you can say some­thing pos­i­tive, such as, “Your friend will re­ally en­joy a chance to join in your game.”

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