Written by Doctor G

My Selfish Child Won’t Share!

Dear Dr. G,
My daughter is 2 ½ years old. I often take her and our baby to the playground near our house. She loves to play and make new friends, but has a lot of trouble sharing. Whether it is a swing, or snack, or a even a toy someone else brought, and they are letting her play with it! I’m embarrassed at how selfish she can be. How can I teach her to be gracious?

Helena, in Nashville, TN

Sharing is hard! Also, sharing runs against a child’s basic instinct. To be honest, sharing runs counter to human nature in general. I know if there is one scoop of ice cream left at my house, I don’t want to share it with anyone. Seriously, when a human’s first job is to survive, sharing food, water, shelter with anyone except our offspring really just is not an instinct we were given.

Sharing is important. Please don’t misunderstand! I completely support your need to teach your daughter to share. She will learn. Sharing makes the world a much better place, and leads to all kinds of skills you want her to have as an adult, including how to keep a friend or help someone less fortunate.

Don’t feel embarrassed. Being embarrassed that your child wants to hold on to whatever she’s got is like being ashamed that she loves her parents and wants to be with them. What you feel is a mark of selfishness is actually her desire to protect herself and take care of her own needs. This is also a valuable skill.

So how can you get her to go against her own instincts and share? By making it worth her while. Like so many other skills we teach our kids (waiting in line, cleaning up after themselves, getting up for school, being nice to a sibling), sharing is something they eventually do because we require it of them. She will rarely WANT to share. So don’t make that your goal or you’re in for some serious disappointment.

Your goal is for her to consider others’ desires and still speak up for herself. To develop a sense of fair play.

1. Make your expectation clear. “Today at the park, we are going to have fun, and also share the equipment.”

2. Make the consequences clear. “As long as you can give other people a turn, and not grab, we can stay at the park for an hour!”

3. Make the results clear. “I am so proud of how well you took turns on the swing! We are leaving early, though, because you grabbed that boy’s shovel in the sandbox and didn’t give it back when I asked you to.”

She’ll get the idea. Sharing is worth it because it helps with her bigger goal, to stay at the playground. Consequences, by the way, are why adults continue to share even when we don’t feel like it. When I eat all the ice cream, my husband won’t share his popcorn with me!

What do you hate to share? And how have you succeeded in encouraging your kids to go against their instincts about this?

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1 thought on “My Selfish Child Won’t Share!”

  1. I like how you keep it positive, rather than saying “if you don’t share, or if you are bad, then we’re leaving early.” I think it’s better to keep it positive, even if the kid is a brat.

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