Why Don’t My Almost Two-Year-Olds Share?

Dear Mamas,
With my twin boys second birthday quickly approaching I am starting to fear the “terrible twos.” I am finding we are already having a hard time sharing. Any suggestions on how to work with them on this? I’m really hoping your going to tell me that the “terrible twos” is just a myth!



Dear Gina,
I always hated that phrase, “the terrible twos.” Frankly, I never got what was so terrible. It’s an incredibly exciting time for them and they make a tremendous leap in their ability to think. How they see and experience the world changes forever and they no longer need to rely exclusively on their bodies and senses in order to figure things out.

This is good! But….it can create headaches and annoyances if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Forewarned is forearmed, so let me clue you in. Then I bet you’ll find that the twos can be a ton of fun.

Okay, so until about age two, children can only think about whatever is right there in front of them. Believe it or not, “out of sight, out of mind,” is how they see the world. When you leave the room, you cease to exist in their heads. They are totally “present” if you will…little Buddhas, right there in the moment. No worries about the future, no regrets about the past. Just tuned in to what’s happening NOW.

But as they get close to two, they begin to be able to “think about” things. Like the swing at the park or their bottle or you! Now they are starting to get that when you go away you can come back, that there are cookies hidden in the cupboard and that when they get sleepy, they must have their special blankie, and won’t settle for anything else. They start to develop the ability to imagine and pretend and will use an object or toy to represent something else, like a stick for a sword.

They can play near each other but not yet with each other, although that is coming soon. That is called “cooperative play” and it’s still a reach for them. So sharing, although wonderful in theory, is not something they are going to be too good at yet. Trying to impose it will just lead to frustration for you and tears for them. So best to keep your two two’s engaged with their own toys and not expect them to be able to happily hand them over to their brother quite yet.

Certainly talk about sharing and encourage it but don’t assume that something’s wrong or that they are being selfish if they have a hard time giving up the toy they are playing with. They’ll get there!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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