Forced Sharing Vs. Cooperative Play: 5 Tools For Dealing With Toddler Desire

When you send your child to a daycare center, you assume that they will practice basic motor skills, gain an introduction to their future academic life, and be taught important social skills. One of the important social skills most parents look for is the concept of ownership and sharing. It is a relief once your toddler no longer grabs toys out of another child's hands or can understand the concept of taking turns.

However, there is a new movement that takes a critical look at the way many adults force children to share. The movement encourages caregivers to give opportunities for children to play cooperatively but not to impose sharing when a child is involved in an activity. The belief is that forced sharing causes resentment and insecurity in a child and breaks up important blocks of imaginative play. 

If you are interested in reevaluating the way you or your child's daycare center requires your child to share, here are five ways to promote consensual cooperative play among toddlers.

  1. Practice consistency in when and how you ask children to share. A child may not like that they are not given a toy they want to play with immediately. However, if you can remind them that they also get to play with toys for as long as they like without giving them up, they will feel more secure in their interactions with others. If a child is forced to share a toy one day and the next day he or she does not get a toy they want to play with, they may end up feeling insecure and hoarding their toys. 
  2. Give your children the proper language to communicate their desire. Toddlers struggle to communicate verbally, but it is important to teach them how to request a toy as soon as they can form partial sentences. Simple phrases such as, "After you?" or "Let's play together," let a child express their desire in a less demanding way. However, it important to teach your child that even if they can express their desires, they may not always get what they want. 
  3. Model cooperative behavior at home. You cannot always give your toddler the items they want, often because you are using them. However, you can tell your child that they can have an item when you are finished with it (and then follow through on that promise) or find a way to involve your child with the item you are using. This models cooperative behavior for your child. 
  4. Bolster your child's imagination. When you are playing with your child at home, play with many items in unique ways. This makes many different items (or no items at all) interesting to your child and gives them more options for playing when they are on the playground or at preschool. While they may still want a certain toy at a certain time, if you tell them they cannot have it, they are more likely to be able to find something else to play with on their own. 
  5. Redirect your child's attention. If it is obvious that another child is not ready to share, do not speak poorly of that child. Simply explain to your child that they are involved with the toy and your child must find something else. Encourage your child to ask for the items they want to play with, but teach them that after a child says no, they should give that child space to play with the toy and finish their turn. 

If you are concerned about your child's current attitude toward sharing, speak with their daycare provider about the center's policy for sharing. It is important to be consistent at home and school when you are teaching your child to cooperate with others. Also, if you are looking for a new daycare center for your child, you can check one out online at