01/07/2013 06:42 EST | Updated 03/04/2013 05:12 EST

Teaching Your Baby To Share

We all would love to see our baby share everything from food to toys, without prompting or reminding.

But the truth is that expecting our child to share on demand is unfair, and unrealistic even for an adult.

Think about it, most of us have no problem sharing our meal, or our clothes, with people we know, even with people we don't know. But would you lend your wedding ring to a stranger you just met randomly in a park? How about the key to your home? Yet we expect our children to do just that: share everything, including their most prized possessions with anyone who asks for them.

Instead of "forcing" your child to share indiscriminately, look at the situation from your child's point of view first, each time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in order to share, your baby first has to form the concept of ownership, which doesn't happen until sometime after their first birthday. At first, they can't recognize the difference between what belongs to them, and what belongs to others. Once that is learned, they still have to understand the difference between sharing and giving. This will make sharing much easier, because your child will realize that when they share a toy with someone, it doesn't mean that they will never see it again.

Still, there are many things that you can do with your baby to help them learn to share.

Sharing tricks and tips for beginners:

  • Model by example: share everything you can with your baby, saying the words as you do it "I like to share [my necklace] with you". This helps them begin to understand what sharing means.

  • Start by asking your baby to share her food: young children love to feed their parents, and they will willingly take part in this activity!

  • When sharing your things, ask for them back, this will help your baby understand that when they share, they also get their things back. Simply say "I shared it with you, now I would like it back".

  • Keep it simple - only use the word "share", not borrow, lend, return, or any of the other many words associated with the act of sharing and returning. This way, you reinforce the concept clearly, which helps your child learn quickly and easily.

  • Begin with short sharing episodes: ask your baby to share their toy, play with it, then give it back within less than one minute. You can slowly, over the next few weeks, extend that time, but still keep it under 5 minutes, so your baby realizes that when you say "share" it always means that you will return it.

  • Reinforce your baby's efforts positively, simply say "thank you for sharing with me, it makes me happy!" Don't say "nice boy" or "nice girl", which implies that they are not nice if they are unwilling to share at a particular time. Children should share not because they are afraid of being a bad person, but because they find pleasure in making you happy, and in sharing. Remember to teach the value, not just obtain a desired result.

Once your toddler is comfortable with the concept of sharing, you can practice sharing in social settings, with other children, like in the park.

Tricks and tips for sharing with others:

  • Bring plenty of toys so your child can share and not have to wait for a turn to play.

  • Leave all of your child's favorite possessions at home, to avoid forcing your child to share them.

  • Play alongside your child, to demonstrate how it's done and to reinforce and encourage them: "thank you for sharing your pail with me"; "your new friend is very happy that you're sharing with him! He likes to play with you!" - this also helps your child understand that sharing is a good way to make friends.

  • Know when to leave: if your child feels overwhelmed, calmly and discretely leave the playgroup, without reprimanding your child. Talk about the experience: "it's hard sometimes to share our toys with people we don't know, isn't it?"

  • Respecting their needs: if they are playing with a toy and another child wants it, don't force your child to share. Instead, support your child and model the correct behavior: "Sam is playing with his toy right now, but he can share it with you later" or "he brought other toys that you can play with". Your child will then have the skills to share, while respecting his own needs.