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Normally, my son (2 years old) does very well sharing with other kids. In fact, he's remarkably social, even with children he's never met before.

And therein lies the problem.

On a recent trip to the museum, he was very excited by everything that was going on, but mostly by what the other kids were doing. The problem is that he wanted to play with other kids, including older ones, but not everyone takes kindly to a 2 year old running over and "helping".

I definitely don't want to discourage him from the idea that sharing toys is the best way, but how do we address him running over to strangers and expecting to share? In some cases, that's appropriate, but when an older child is carefully arranging velcro stars into specific constellation patterns, my son running over and moving stars around or slapping new ones over the other child's isn't appropriate. Similarly, if there's a bin of blocks or Legos, my son wants to contribute to the other kids' projects, even though there's enough space/materials for him to play on his own.

Some kids are going to be alright with this, but others may not be.

How do I approach this with my son? Ideally, I'd like him to ask the other kids if he can play with them, but at this age not all of the kids he wants to play with are verbal enough to respond appropriately, plus he moves so fast that its difficult for us to anticipate where he is going, in order to get him to ask first.

What if the child he asks says "no"? When we taught him how to share, we tried to be clear that he doesn't have to share, but he should. This may be a little harder to grok coming from the other direction, particularly if the toys and designated play areas clearly are communal. Its much easier to say "this other little boy/girl is playing with that now; let's find something else to play with" than "this other little boy/girl is playing in this area; you can play too, but you have to stay over here and leave them alone."

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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

It seems you're having difficulty expressing the idea of "not sharing" in positive terms. If you call it "taking turns" it's a lot easier to encourage in a positive way. "It's his turn to play with the legos now. It's your turn to play with these velcro stars if you want." Kids that age really glom onto the concept, because it reconciles the need to share with their desire to have exclusive use of a toy. They're willing to give someone else a turn because they know they will eventually get one in return.

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The title was meant to be attention-grabbing and a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I really like the idea of emphasizing taking turns. –  Beofett Feb 11 '13 at 18:11
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In combination with the concept of "taking turns" you can also talk to your little one about "projects." What I mean by that is best illustrated by giving you an example from home first, and they I'll explain how it applies out in the world. The home example is also a way to "practice" the idea.

First, he'll need to know to offer help rather than just "helping." You'll also want to teach this at home first, and probably already have in some ways. For example, sometimes he might help stir something to "help" in the kitchen, but he knows you and mommy need to do a lot of the kitchen stuff without his hands getting into it. Projects can work like this too.

So in terms of toys; lets say the blocks are out. You go over and start building a particular, "house." with the blocks (this also works with play-dough since I know you like it too) When he comes over to help you say, "No thanks, I have something particular I'm building and I'd like to have my own project right now. It was a nice choice to offer though. Why don't you build a project of your own next to me?" If he doesn't "offer" first and just starts building, you can still say, "thanks for wanting to help, but I'd like to do my own project right now. . ." (similar ending to the other).

When you are done, tell him all about your "house." Who lives in it? Where is each piece of "furniture" how did you build it... Then let hims "share" about his house and be amazed with his work too.

It is a much more complicated concept than taking turns, and he won't get it right away. However, if you start introducing the idea now at home, then it is one more tool in your arsenal that much sooner. Almost immediately it will make the, "no's" and the kids that "don't want to share" seem more normal and less, "mean" even if he doesn't understand how to operate in the context on his own. When he offers to "help" a friend at a place like the museum and gets a "no," It will just feel like a "project" situation (which is what it is really). With the stars and other communal toys and situations, you would then help him figure out a "domain" for his constellations and a "domain" for the constellations the other boy is working on. You become a "team" in the creation of your project. It wasn't until about five I could expect my little one to figure out the domain part on her own, but it certainly helped her in her understanding of the other, older person.

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We were perhaps a bit too conservative in our approach - we encouraged our lot from the start to come and ask us if they could go and play with another child, which gave us the opportunity to say, "No - that boy is busy," or, "You're a bit too big to play with her."

On reflection, this probably made our kids, well, at least our eldest, a bit reticent to go and play so I would suggest that while it is useful to have a bit of 'checking in' before they go running off, giving them some freedom while watching so you can step in if they do look like they are heading for a smaller child or one who won't appreciate the attention is probably the way to go.

In all likelihood, the other child's parents will also be watching out for them.

Worst case scenario is you get to have a chat on how to be polite with other kids - a useful life lesson which includes saying sorry, understanding others (which they do pick up eventually if you get them to think how it would have made them feel) and possible chat with other parents (which may be helpful, as perhaps they want their child to play more with others rather than on their own)

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