When do babies learn to share?

If you’ve already started taking Baby on play dates, you may have already noticed a truth that takes some parents off-guard. Babies, even babies who are friendly, sweet, and grow up in polite, supportive homes, are not natural sharers, and don’t start out playing nicely with other children. Parents tend to be embarrassed when their children start going around tearing toys from other babies’ hands, but the truth is that until children are around 3 to 5 years old, they may have trouble understanding why taking something away from another child isn’t nice. However, with help from the example of the adults in their lives, they may be able to start modeling turn-taking sooner.

Stages of development, stages of play

Before they start worrying about whether or not their children can play nicely with others, many parents find themselves concerned that their babies don’t want to play with others at all. It’s totally normal for babies who are put near each other to play completely separately beside each other. And if they do interact, it’s generally to grab each other’s toys, or to climb over each other without any consideration for what watching adults might think of as ‘personal space.’

As Baby grows past her first year and into her second, she will start to be more aware of the other children she is playing near. This stage is called parallel play, and will still mostly involve playing her own games in the general vicinity of other children, but she will pay a lot more attention to what those other children are doing. As she gets older still, at around three or four, she and her peers are more likely to start playing together, though not in a cooperative way. By four to five though, she will have reached the point of being more ready to play in a way you’ll recognize – working together, sharing, and building relationships.

Learning about turn-taking

Baby may not be ready to do much spontaneous sharing with her peers, though she could also surprise you. Some studies, including a 2010 study by the Harvard University Department of Psychology, suggest that babies and toddlers might have a much greater sense of fairness and empathy than current common wisdom says. Even if she isn’t quite ready to start sharing on her own, though, she can still start learning about turn-taking, fairness, and politeness from you now. In fact, she probably already has.

Baby already sees you modeling sharing and turn taking when you’re waiting in line at the store, taking turns with your partner to do certain household chores, or when passing a ball back and forth with Baby. When you start describing these actions as ‘sharing’ or ‘taking turns’ out loud to Baby, she can start to match the words up with ideas, so that when you ask her to share her crayons, or give her cousin a turn with the ball, she will start to have an idea of what you mean, And you never know – she may even do it.

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