We've all seen it......a child who's 2, 3, maybe even older,tugging on one side o f a favorite toy. Another child, perhaps older, perhaps not, tugging just has fervently on the opposite end - each toy trying to win the chance to play with it. Sometimes it gets more heated and pushing, biting or other unwanted behaviors come into play. Perhaps "no, that's mine" is as common a phrase in your home as it is in mine right now. Maybe, just maybe, you're nearing the point where you want to scream something you'd rather not. Perchance you've resorted to threats like "if you can't share your toys, I'm taking them all away!"
The problem is, sharing is much more complex than it appears on the surface. The concept isn't really solidified until a child is 3 or 4 years old (even older for some). A younger child doesn't yet understand that, when they give that toy to someone else, they will get it back. They're belief is that by handing it to someone else, it's gone -forever. It takes some time for social and emotional development and also experience with receiving the toy back to strengthen the concept.
To really understand the idea of sharing, requires what is called "Theory of Mind." A child must be able to understand a situation from the other person's perspective - and therefore that someone else's thoughts are different than their own. He or she must have concern for that other person. He or she must also be able to delay gratification. That's quite a task for a little body!
Not to mention, there are lots of other things happening simultaneously: new found independence, testing boundaries, etc.
There are things you can do, starting in infancy, to help build the concept, though. The most basic level of understanding starts when your child gives you something and you return it. That simple act creates the foundation for sharing! Each time you are a good model of sharing, you are also helping your child learn to share. As the concept is developing in those growing minds, it also helps to talk about things concretely, in terms they can understand. We learn the sign for TAKE-TURNS in Signing Smart play class. In the beginning, you may need to do more direction - "It's Jimmy's turn to play with the blue CAR right now. In 2 minutes it will be your turn. You can play with the green truck for now." (Fast forward 2 minutes) "OK, Jimmy, you had a great turn, now it's Billy's turn to play with the blue CAR. Would you like to have a turn with the green truck?" As they grow, develop, and have several chances to experience the process, you can start to be less hands on. (It also helps to have something for everyone to do, even if it's not the first choice.)
Catch your kiddo being good! When you see Billy and Jimmy sharing or taking turns without being prompted, make a big deal about it! Just like we make a big deal about the first sign, new signs, and lots more in between, make a big deal with you catch your child being good. They want to see that reaction again, so they'll work hard to make it happen.
All this to say - it's probably not practical for you to have 2 or 3 (or more!) of everything so that everyone can have their first choice toy at all times. But, from early on, there are things you can do to support and develop the skills to keep everybody engaged and happy.
What are your favorite ways to avoid fights and tears over sharing and taking turns?
Here are the websites that helped me with my research: