When Do Kids Learn to Share? (Quick Answer!)

By KidSpaceStuff •  Updated: 05/15/24 •  7 min read

Every parent has likely witnessed that pivotal moment: two toddlers, one toy, and the impending clash. Sharing is a complex skill that only comes naturally to some youngsters. 

In this article, I’ll explore the developmental milestones associated with learning to share, offering insights into when and how children typically acquire this essential social behavior. By the journey’s end, you’ll have a roadmap to understanding and guiding your child’s journey to becoming a gracious sharer. Let’s dig in!

Now, When Do Kids Learn to Share?

A picture of 2 kids talking with each other

Kids typically start to learn the concept of sharing from 3.5 to 4 years old. 

The ability to share is crucial for children to establish and maintain friendships, play cooperatively, take turns, negotiate, and manage disappointments. Sharing is not just an innate behavior but a skill that evolves with guidance and appropriate learning experiences. 

Children’s understanding and willingness to share throughout early childhood will vary based on their developmental stage, experiences, and the social contexts they are exposed to.

Understanding The Developmental Timeline

Let’s break down the developmental timeline of kids learning to share into simple stages:

Infancy (Birth – 1 year)

At this age, babies are primarily focused on their own needs. While they do not yet understand the concept of sharing, they start recognizing familiar faces and begin forming attachments.

Toddlerhood (1-3 years)

Early Toddlers (1-2 years): They are known for the “Mine!” phase. They see everything as belonging to them, making sharing a challenge. However, they start to notice other kids’ emotions and reactions.

Late Toddlers (2-3 years): With guidance, they begin to grasp the basics of sharing and can occasionally take turns with toys, especially with adult intervention.

Preschool (3-5 years)

Early Preschool (3-4 years): Kids become more social and play alongside others. They start understanding the idea of taking turns, but might still struggle with sharing prized possessions.

Late Preschool (4-5 years): By this age, most children understand the importance of sharing and can do so without always being prompted. They start to develop empathy, which helps in sharing.

School Age (6 years and up)

As children enter school, they have usually developed a more mature understanding of sharing. They can negotiate, wait their turn, and share more willingly. They understand the social benefits of sharing, like making and keeping friends.

Factors Influencing the Ability to Share

Let’s break down the factors that influence a child’s ability to share into easily understandable points:

1. Temperament.

Every child is born with a unique personality. Some kids are naturally more generous, while others might be more reserved or possessive.

2. Parenting style.

3. Siblings & family dynamics.

4. Cultural Influences.

Different cultures have varying views on sharing. In some cultures, sharing is highly valued, while in others, individual ownership might be emphasized.

5. Past experiences.

If a child had a toy taken away from them and it wasn’t returned, they might be hesitant to share in the future. Positive experiences encourage sharing, while negative ones might deter it.

6. Developmental stage.

As mentioned before, a child’s understanding of sharing evolves as they grow. Younger children might find it harder to share than older ones due to their developmental stage.

7. Social Environment

If kids are in an environment where sharing is encouraged, like specific playgroups or schools, they might be more inclined to share.

Tips and Strategies for Encouraging Sharing

Sharing is a vital social skill that helps children build strong relationships and develop empathy. Teaching them to share can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it becomes easier. Here are some simple tips to encourage kids to share:

Tip #1: Model Sharing Behavior

Kids learn by observing. Share your things with them and others to show them how it’s done.

Tip #2: Praise Generous Behavior

Whenever your child shares, praise and acknowledge them. Positive reinforcement encourages the behavior to be repeated.

Tip #3: Set Up Play Dates

Organize play sessions with other kids. Group play provides ample opportunities to practice sharing.

Tip #4: Use Timers

For younger kids, set a timer to indicate when to switch toys. This introduces the concept of taking turns.

Tip #5: Teach Through Stories

Read books or tell stories that highlight the virtues of sharing. Kids often relate to characters and remember lessons better.

Tip #6: Avoid Forcing

Encourage and explain why it’s good instead of making them share. Forcing can lead to resentment.

Tip #7: Have Duplicate Toys

Especially for toddlers, having two of the same toy can reduce conflicts and gradually introduce the idea of sharing.

Common Myths about Sharing

Sharing is a topic that’s often surrounded by misconceptions and myths, especially when it comes to children’s development and behavior.

One widespread myth is that children who don’t share are inherently selfish. In reality, the unwillingness to share, especially in young kids, is often a natural phase of development and not an indication of their overall character. They might establish a sense of ownership or navigate their emotional responses.

Another misconception is that forcing kids to share will teach them generosity. Forced sharing can create feelings of resentment and might not instill the genuine joy and understanding associated with sharing. Instead, it’s more effective to guide and encourage them gently.

The Lifelong Benefits of Sharing

Sharing is more than just a childhood lesson; its benefits extend into adulthood and throughout one’s life. Here’s a simple explanation of the lifelong advantages of sharing:

Here’s a great video that shows you how to guide your kids to share!

Final Thoughts

To conclude, most kids start to understand what it means to share between the ages of 3.5 and 4.  

Learning to share is a profound journey in a child’s developmental trajectory. It’s not simply about relinquishing a toy or snack; it’s about cultivating empathy, understanding boundaries, and developing essential social skills. While the journey might start in the toddler years with the classic “Mine!” phase, it evolves into a deeper understanding of reciprocity and mutual respect as children grow. 

The environment, from caregivers’ guidance to peer interactions, plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s sharing behavior. It’s crucial to remember that each child is unique. While milestones can provide guidance, the pace of development can vary. Thanks for reading!