By Jessica Smith, Toddler Teacher at The Greensboro Montessori School

Sharing is a very sophisticated behavior. The genuine (unforced) form of sharing comes when one sacrifices his or her own desire(s) to make another happy. Children are not born with this ability. (Let’s face it, some adults never develop this ability.) Before the child can develop the ability to share, he or she must first recognize that others have feelings, that these feelings are different from their own feelings, and that he or she has an impact on the feelings of others. This ability continues to develop throughout the toddler and preschool years.

Often, in social settings parents and teachers ask children to give up an object to another child if they feel one child is unhappy, has had the toy long enough, or has more than one of the toy. This sends a variety of messages to both children and not all of them are positive.

Consider this alternative:

If a child has three shovels, for example, and another child wants one, the adult says, “Suzie, you have three shovels. Mary is looking at them. I think she wants one.” Sometimes this is thought provoking enough (if not, the adult asks if Mary could use one). The child hands over a shovel (and the adult says, “Thank you”) or the child says, “No, mine.” In the latter case, the adult says, “Suzie isn’t finished with the shovels. Would you like to try a truck (or some other suggestion). Mary might not be happy with this response, but she will learn about waiting and/or will learn problem solving (finding an alternative). She will also learn that the adult honors and values Suzie’s feelings.

Validating Mary’s feelings of frustration or sadness, if they follow, is of equal importance. If the adult took the shovel from Suzie then her happiness is sacrificed for Mary’s happiness. A judgment has been made that Mary’s happiness is more important. Suzie has no understanding of fairness, i.e. having more shovels that she can use. It is developmentally inappropriate for the adult to expect her to have that understanding or to think the adult can teach her this concept.

Toddlers are developing an awareness of others and their feelings. It takes time and many interactions for this awareness to fully develop. It takes even more time to develop the desire/ability/willingness to take another’s feelings into consideration and/or put them ahead of his or her own feelings. This can and should develop naturally in the child and not be done to please the adult.

Of course, when you are out and about with your child in various social settings, not every parent is going to take this approach or understand when you do. The compromise is to offer your child the choice to pick one or two objects to play with, if he or she is hoarding all of the toys. If another child wants what your child is playing with, you could say to your child: “He wants that train. Are you finished?” Depending on the answer, the issue is resolved or you say to the other child, “He isn’t quite finished with it, but when he is we will bring it to you.” It can be difficult to manage your feelings about sharing as an adult and, even more so, what you feel from the other adult. Just keep in mind that you are helping your child advocate for him/herself. Your child will want a toy that another child has at some point. Then, you will be the parent that says, “No, he doesn’t have to give that up. He is really enjoying it and we can wait.”

At The Greensboro Montessori School, children and their families share in a stimulating and nurturing educational experience, built upon the core values of respect, independence, and responsibility. Teachers tailor the classroom experience to each child’s developmental needs, allowing the child to pace herself and simultaneously discover the joy of learning as its own reward. Guided by the vision and wisdom of Dr. Maria Montessori, a pioneer in early child development, and supported by a committed community, the Greensboro Montessori School has developed a rich history of nurturing creative, eager learners. Today the school serves nearly 300 children in a comprehensive program for toddlers through middle school. For more information please visit the website,

*Sponsored by The Greensboro Montessori School