top of page

What It Means When A Toddler Won't Share and 3 Phrases That Will Save You!

Many parents and childcare professionals have heard a version or two of this popular poem about 2's.

I'm 2!

If I like it, it's MINE!

If it's in my hands, it's MINE!

If I can take it from you, it's MINE!

If I had it before, it's MINE!

This is so typically true, but how does it help you deal with the frustration and embarrassment of the situation?

For the most part, it doesn't. Except that it lets us know we're not alone and our child is probably acting normally.

Like me, you've probably found yourself saying some of the same phrases this young woman

in pink is saying. And like me, you've probably not had too much luck with them!

But, there's another side to the coin that many seasoned childcare providers talk about. I didn't really understand why young children had such a hard time sharing until I learned the following developmental principle.

The reason they want the toy isn't because they're greedy, selfish, impatient or narcissistic.

They want the toy because they want to learn about it. PLAY! is a child's best method of learning. A child's desire to play and learn is usually quite strong, especially for a child that is super smart and/or psychically inquisitive.

So why then didn't they want the same toy a minute ago when it was available? Is it because they're greedy and they don't want the other child to have it?

Not really. It's just that seeing a toy in action and being used makes it infinitely more interesting. Our eyes and our brains are wired to detect and pay attention to movement. Just as they're wired to learn.

Now I see why toy snatching is such a never-ending problem in early care and education. It's connected to their learning and their drive to learn is insatiable.

That's wonderful news but it still doesn't tell us what to do in the moment or what to do to prevent it from happening. So here's my best idea for prevention, followed by my best 3 phrases for staying calm and dealing with the issue like a pro.


Use laptime to teach emotions. Laptime is time spent connecting and talking about feelings

and attaching words to them. Click on the word laptime or this diagram to learn more about this method. Make sure to start with their feelings before moving on to your feelings and then the feeling of others.

important note:

All Feelings Are OK, All Actions (and words) Are Not!

Now for the phrases


I see you're having a problem. I'll help you take turns. I'll hold the toy until we can figure out what to do.

This might seems counterintuitive but forget about sharing for a while. It's rare for toddlers to actually share. Instead, you can teach them to take turns. It takes patience and maybe a timer. While you're at it, forget about the blame involved. It doesn't usually help to ask who had it first.

Blame doesn't solve problems. Plus it can create more. Don't worry if they cry, whine or jump up and down while waiting. Just make sure you use short enough turns for them to catch on.


She'/He's/Their using it!

It seems obvious, but someone has to say it. No blame, no shame, just the facts. Then you can teach a better way to get a turn such as asking or waiting.


Bernie is your friend. Be gentle and let's work it out!

Show them what a friend is by talking about it. Toddler teachers play up the friendship aspect

of learning. They also teach problem solving. They notice what works well for toddlers in play and supply words to encourage more of it.

Thanks so much for stopping by and reading this today. After spending over 43 years working with very young children and earning degrees in early childhood, elementary education and human development, I still have questions and need support. Do you?

If you want to learn more about antibully, antibias strategies for toddlers, visit our homepage and join our Magic Rock Club!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI

Click on the word PLAY!

32 views0 comments
bottom of page