Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Social Skills and Sharing for Toddler Age Group

Is your toddler grabby or territorial with toys? Is there an issue of your toddler always wanting the toy in his playmate’s hand? Do you struggle when you have a couple of toddler’s sharing a space and there is constant fighting over toys? What could a parent or caregiver do to keep a playroom environment calm?

For age: one year to three years ~ social skills for toddlers are completely different from social skills of preschool children and elementary age children. It’s a huge learning curve to help toddlers understand sharing toys (especially if it’s their own toys). Generally, they have more interest in what is in their playmate’s hand than a toy on the floor or a toy in the toy box that nobody is playing with. They have a sense that they will never see their toy again, something is going to happen to it, or simply because they are drawn to their playmate’s toy. At times, for toddlers, the thought of sharing can be very traumatic. The skill of socializing and sharing is a learned skill that takes patients and lots of opportunities for toddlers to socialize with other toddlers. Yes, coming from several years of caring for toddlers, I am a true believer that it is possible to teach toddlers how to share by taking turns.

My advice with teaching social skills to toddlers:
Don’t put toddlers in a crowded room full of ten or more toddlers. No matter how many adults are in the room, it can be too overwhelming for toddlers to learn how to socialize appropriately.
I have witnessed aggressive behavior like hair pulling, biting, pushing and grabbing. This usually happens in a crowded space with too many toddlers in one room. They can get territorial with their own space and toys.
I would suggest placing toddlers in an environment where there is enough room and space for roaming in a child safe area. The ratio should be 1 adult to 5 toddlers. (Not 2 adults to 10 toddlers in the same room).
Have plenty of toys that are multiple of the same thing. Like a few dolls, trucks, multiple stuffed animals, balls, etc. This is also suggested if your toddler has siblings close in age.
Generally, toddlers don’t know how to play with the same toy together. But they could understand taking turns if taught appropriately.  I have had success in minimizing the aggressive behaviors by teaching toddlers how to share their space and toys.
For example, if a toddler named Jessica is playing with a doll and another toddler, Heather, sees it and wants to play with it as well, I gently remind Heather that it’s Jessica’s turn. If Heather is insistent on wanting to play with the doll Jessica is holding, I remind Heather that it is Jessica’s turn. I redirect Heather to another doll or something else that might spark her interest. Jessica will have a turn with the doll until it’s left behind. I don’t set a time limit. After the doll is left or not being played with, then if Heather wants to play with the doll, it’s her turn.
It’s important to be consistent in reminding and redirecting. Overtime, toddlers start to understand as you repeat whose turn it is. The need to be redirected won’t be as constant as it was when they were first learning to share.
Here is another example: If Jessica is holding multiple toys and Heather wants to play with some of Jessica’s pile of toys, I ask Jessica which toy could Heather play with? Usually they will point at or pick up a toy. Then I ask Jessica to hand it to Heather. I would encourage Heather to say thank you in return. This works better than demanding Jessica to share with Heather or picking out a toy from the pile for Heather to have. Toddlers like the idea, that they have a choice in the matter.
Here is another example: If Jessica doesn’t know which toy to give, then, I turn it into a choice. I ask Jessica would you like to give her the ball or the toy truck. Almost always, if given a couple of choices, they will make a choice.
Choices work wonders for toddlers on almost every situation. If you keep the choices down to two or three to pick from, you will have less of a battle. They like to have control of choices in their everyday life situations. Refer to Iva’s article on: The Magic of Choices vrs.Struggling with Power Play. If you have an infant in the mix refer to Iva’s article on: Social Skills with an Infant in the Mix
Here is another example: If you need to put a toy away or if a toddler wants to take a toy home with them, I find something of their own (like a blanket) and ask if they would “trade” (for their blanket). Or if two toddlers are fighting over a toy, sometimes it works to ask each toddler to trade toys. This usually works best for older toddlers at around the age of two or older.
If your toddler isn’t enrolled in a child care program, it’s a good idea to setup play dates with friends close in age at least two or three days a week. These play dates could be setup with one or two other toddlers they see on a regular basis. This could be at your house, a relative’s house, or a trusted friend’s house. Let your child socialize with his playmates with one designated adult in charge. It’s important not to hover over your little one during play dates. This is a good time for the other parents to run errands while their toddler is learning social skills. Parents could take turns as to who is placed in charge for the play dates. You would be amazed on how this short separation from Mommy or Daddy builds their confidence. Toddlers need time to get familiar with their friends before they feel comfortable in sharing their space.

The sooner toddlers learn how to socialize and share at a young age, the less stressful it will be for them when they start preschool, kindergarten, and full-time school later on in their growing up lives.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Thank you for your compliment. Yes, do remember that the concept of sharing with toddlers takes time. So be patience and consistent and your toddler will do great.

  2. This article is well written. Thank you for your suggestions. I will try this.


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