Dr. Sarah (00:02):

Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard, because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.


Hello, Dr. Rebecca Hershberg. Dr. Emily Upshur back again to answer our listener questions. Hello, welcome.

Dr. Rebecca (00:52):

Hi. It’s like to be part of my week. Honestly, I’d love doing this with you. I know

Dr. Sarah (00:56):

Before we hit record, we were just reveling in how awesome it is that we get to hang out all the time and do these questions. It’s nice. Today we have a listener question. This is a mom of a two and a half year old, and she says, I had my friend and her two kids over the other day and my two and a half year old had a fit. Anytime one of the kids tried to take one of her toys, even the ones she wasn’t playing with, I was so embarrassed. What can I do to get my daughter to share and play nicely? I feel you, mama. My two and a half year old…

Dr. Emily (01:33):

I hated this time.

Dr. Sarah (01:34):

Struggled with this. She still struggles with this. She’s five. It’s hard.

Dr. Rebecca (01:40):

Say before I say anything about anything, she’s actually asking for a change. You guys, I’m not going to go for the actual question, is like, sweetie, you don’t have to be embarrassed. Two and a half year olds have trouble sharing and parents will be like, well, but not that other person that I saw in the sandbox that one time. I mean, sure, but generally sharing is really hard At this age. We will answer your question on how to help encourage more prosocial behavior, including sharing, but in the meantime, it’s not a reflection of you that you’re a bad parent, that you’ve done anything wrong, that you’re raising a greedy, selfish, sociopathic child. And I think if we can one podcast at a time, change the culture so that parents don’t become embarrassed when their kids act in any way, but particularly developmentally, typical and normative ways, I don’t know. It’d be a better world. So I’m starting there.

Dr. Emily (02:42):

Yeah, no, I was also like, oh, we don’t make them share. That’s the answer. Done.

Dr. Sarah (02:49):

You don’t have, go get yourself a manicure instead of listening to the rest of this episode.

Dr. Emily (02:54):

Exactly. Stop. You just don’t. It’s great

Dr. Rebecca (03:00):

If your kid is nine, the play date would perhaps be a different story, but…

Dr. Sarah (03:06):

Even a 9-year-old, there’re probably going to be moments where they’re going to struggle with this. I mean, if they can’t get through an entire play date because they can’t share anything, we want to work on those skills. That’s a nice bell that’s ringing, that’s saying, Hey, we got to adjust some of our strategies here and build in more scaffolding because find, we would expect more tolerance for the frustration that comes with having to give up territory. But I think that’s the really important point. The frustration of having to give up territory remains. The skill is tolerating the frustration and inhibiting maybe the impulse to retreat or become aggressive. Two and a half year old doesn’t have that filter and that inhibition impulse, so they can’t necessarily stop themselves from retreating or becoming aggressive, but the frustration of having to give up territory, I think exists all the way for the rest of our lives into adulthood. We just get better at handling it. It is very hard to share.

Dr. Emily (04:13):

But I also think I remember, I can’t remember how I heard this or how I thought about this back then, but I also think yes, but as an adult you don’t have to share everything and as a child, you’re expected to share it all. And I think that’s something, a strategy we used was a little bit of coping ahead. Like, all right, so if these things you’re not going to want someone to play with, let’s put them in a closet so they’re not out with all the other toys or your lovey or your special toys. Let’s put away some of these things that are just, it’s okay. They don’t have to be in the quote share zone for two and a half year olds. Also, again, I said sharing isn’t a developmental expectation, so encouraging taking turns or doing some of those strategies. I just remember all the time trying to use timers when my kids were, we were little.

Dr. Sarah (05:13):

How well did that go?

Dr. Emily (05:14):

And now it’s your turn and now it’s your turn.

Dr. Sarah (05:16):

Did it work?

Dr. Emily (05:18):

You know, sometimes it did. I mean, again, I always thought of it as not did it work, but am I working towards something, right? Am I working towards them being able to tolerate this better? Am I working towards them understanding.

Dr. Sarah (05:32):

Which reframes the amount of pressure you might feel if it doesn’t work in the moment.

Dr. Emily (05:39):


Dr. Rebecca (05:40):

The other thing I think is validating your kids’ experience of not wanting to share. As you said, that sharing is really hard or frustrating and recognizing as a grownup that typically not wanting to share that impulse kicks in when someone wants to share with the thing you’re playing with. And so I’ve found just saying out loud, oh, it’s so hard to share. I get it. You’re playing with that now and then looking at the other kid and saying, so-and-so is playing with that right now. When they’re done, you can definitely have a turn, and that way you’re also giving the child who’s playing with the thing their own autonomy. This is a two and a half year old. They’re not going to want to play with the same toy the entire time, but you’re giving them the autonomy to kind of decide when they’re done playing with it. And somehow I found that releases a little bit of pressure of just, it’s kind of like prefacing when you’re done, this other person is going to use it, but right now everything can stay exactly the same.

Dr. Emily (06:51):

What I love about that is it takes the pressure off too, right? Right. Everybody’s under less pressure to give up the toy, and then this thing that wasn’t such a big deal is now kind of magnifying. Everybody’s looking at you, everybody’s looking at your parenting, everybody’s looking at this kid. Are they going to give up those toy? Is this the moment you’re going to fail as a parent or succeed?

Dr. Rebecca (07:13):

And also if you’re really having fun, playing with something you shouldn’t have to get sharing doesn’t mean 1, 2, 3, stop having fun and let someone have fun. Sharing has a broader definition. It’s sort of like, here’s the toys. Can we figure out how to navigate that? We all kind of want to play with them over the next 15 minutes, whatever. And I think two and a half year olds can kind of navigate that if they have a grownup there to narrate. We talk about that a lot and this podcast to narrate the emotional experience and provide some structure, whether it’s Emily, as you said with a timer or just the structure of, I see you really, really want that toy. I see you’re having really a lot of fun with it right now, so you keep having fun with it, and then when you are done, it’ll be your turn. And just providing that narration I think is really containing for kids with these emotions that are really hard because it’s not easy to share.

Dr. Emily (08:15):

And I think as a parent always, it’s funny, I call it my teacher mom voice, where you imbue this confidence that you might have to fake it a little, right? I got a plan here you’re going to do. I think some parents, and I’ve gotten feedback from some parents that are like, oh, but I don’t want to, can I talk to another child like that? I don’t want to parent another child. And I think when you put on your little bit of a teacher mom voice and you’re there for everybody there for the play date, not for your kid or their kid, you’re there to sort of have a developmental moment or to have fun. I think that can help a little, but it might require, I think it could feel unfamiliar to some parents. It might require sort of faking it a little until you figure it out or putting on a little bit of that teacher mom voice until you settle into that.

Dr. Sarah (09:07):

Yeah, I think that’s really common for parents to kind have that little worry. Am I crossing a boundary if I’m parenting another person’s kid? But I kind of think the antidote to that is to reframe the situation. If we’re thinking about sharing or really in this case not sharing as a problem that requires discipline, then it can feel kind of uncomfortable to navigate that with more than your own children in the dynamic. But if we can reframe it as like, well, this is just a really tough moment that two kids are struggling to navigate, and I can support both kids in moving through it and there’s going to be some feelings and we can all really kind of handle it, then it doesn’t really feel like we’re parenting another person’s kid. We’re just supporting two kids equally and mutually, and we’re there to support. So I think sports casting is kind of a nice way of thinking about is going to opportunity coach them in real time and narrate what’s happening versus refereeing where I’m going to take a side and whether it’s my child’s or the other child’s side, and kind of try to solve the problem. I think that can be, I mean, this isn’t really a disciplinary issue.

Dr. Rebecca (10:27):

Especially for two and a half year olds, but as you said, or one of us said earlier on, even for older kids and even for grownups, it’s hard to share. And there’s the territorial piece too, which I don’t think we’ve hit on yet. It’s this idea because I know this mom or dad for them matter said, even with the toys they’re not playing with, and I’ve seen that it’s like kids are on a play date playing in one child’s room and then someone goes for something up on the shelf and it’s like, no, you can’t play with that. And then so they go for something else. Like, no, you can’t play with that. And I think that’s where pre-gaming with your kid, again, these people are going to come into our home. We’re having a play date. Here’s what a play date is. Should we, as Emily said earlier, put some things away and maybe you decide if your child is four or five, you can decide with them what to put away, but maybe if your child’s two and a half, what are the super special things?


It’s also often the case that the child who is hosting the play date needs to take a little break at one point. It’s just a lot. And it’s also a reason why, especially now that we’re in summer, at least here in New York, have play dates outside, have play dates in neutral territories, have play dates, have playgrounds. There is an added dimension of stress when it’s at someone’s house for all kinds of reasons. And you don’t have to do that, but doing it somewhere else, doing it in neutral location, doing it outside, taking breaks, oh, looks like this is all getting a little too much. Let’s all go have a snack. I mean, I think those are really good strategies too.

Dr. Sarah (12:11):

Yeah, no, I am having flashbacks to when my daughter would have play dates and sharing was really hard for her at two and a half. I mean, my love, love my daughter, she, she’s so much fun to see how she’s building relationships now. And I still know at five, I definitely have to walk through a play date with her in advance and be like, what are you comfortable sharing? What do you want to take out of the playroom? And it’s not just, I know that even if she takes things out of the playroom, there’s going to be a child going around touching this and touching this, and she’s just going to start collecting all the things that child touches and just putting it away and taking it right out of their hand. So be it. Because it’s not really about sharing in that moment at all.


It’s about she’s flooded with, it’s too overwhelming to see all of her things being kind of taken in her mind, in her mind in that moment. It feels like they’re being disrupted and she’s losing control of those things, of that territory, and it’s just activating something inside of her. And so I’m not like, that’s not a moment that I’m going to choose to teach her about sharing, because that’s not a time when she’s really receptive to learning that skill. She’s too flooded. It’s too much. And so I look at that as to your point, Rebecca, like, ah, you need a break, not you need a timeout because you need to cool off until you can share. It’s more like, ah, the bell has been rung. The play date needs to move to a different space. The play date needs to it’s snack time. We are going to go do a different activity now.


She can’t showing me that she just has had her maximum capacity with having to tolerate someone in her space. And I know her well enough to know, I just anticipate that, and that’s something we work on outside of the play date a lot. But I’m not going to try to teach her that in the play date when she’s flooded because that’s not the time where she’s really capable of taking in that information. So skill building is important, but when are you going to build the skills? A lot of times we only think of it in the moment when it’s falling apart.

Dr. Rebecca (14:32):

And I just want to highlight what I think is perhaps obvious to us because we’re in this field, but I just want to name it for people that aren’t as familiar when we say that not being able to share is completely developmentally typical that those emotions hard, it also means that the way we used to think about sharing or talk about sharing doesn’t actually apply. I would really discourage parents from saying things like, sharing is caring or it’s not not to share, or, oh, come on, we invited this person to our house. We have to show him that we want him here by sharing, I would really discourage the moral language around sharing at these ages. That’s something that, again, we can teach. It’s a skill, right? Tolerating the frustration of sharing or the difficulty sharing or the anxiety. For a lot of kids, they don’t understand that just because they share something doesn’t mean that kid’s not going to take it home. I mean, isn’t about having a good kid or a bad kid.

Dr. Sarah (15:44):

Or a mean kid or a nice kid.

Dr. Rebecca (15:45):

Right, exactly. And I’m thinking about the kid also, Sarah, when you were talking about your daughter who says, you can’t play with this and you can’t play with this. And I could see the parent of the other kid somehow saying to the other kid like, oh, well, she’s not being very nice right now or something. It’s being able to say to our kids, it’s just such important modeling. So-and-so’s having a hard time. There are things that are hard in life and it’s such a way to model compassion. I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of labeling that happens around sharing of our own kids, of other kids. Even post gaming with your own kids. We were there. That was a hard play date. She didn’t want to share anything. Well, that’s not nice. We share when people come to our house, it’s like, none of us need that.

Dr. Sarah (16:38):

Right? And I think to the more, the larger point of we want to build skills. If you were to want to build the capacity to share in your child, you want to build that skill. Well, we want to break down, well, what are the precursors to that acquisition? What do you need to do first to be able to share? One is you need to tolerate frustration. That’s a tough one. But that would be required. Two, you need to be able to take perspective. You need to imagine the other person’s wish in the moment and have that kind of override the frustration you might feel in giving it up. And so a lot of times I’ll be working with parents who want to build that they want their kid to share. It’s like, great, well, first we have to work on imagining the other person’s experience without having to share.


And also I think we have to build the capacity to have healthy boundaries. So I often teach kids, I often think that if you want your kid to be able to share first, you need to teach them how to say no in a way. And that might look like, I’m playing with this right now. You can have it when I’m done, or I want a turn with that, and then you can have a turn with that. Or This is mine and doesn’t, not something I can share with you, but you could play with this. It’s counterintuitive a little bit, and it kind of causes us to have to unlearn some stuff we’ve learned in our own childhoods, I think. But if I want my kid to willingly offer up a toy to another kid or willingly offer up anything to another person, they have to believe they have territory that belongs to them so that they can relax enough to invite someone else into their territory. And so I don’t know. I think that teaching a kid how to have boundaries and not share in a way that’s healthy and appropriate helps them to actually feel comfortable sharing because sharing requires no threat response.

Dr. Rebecca (18:51):

It reminds me of the episode we did that maybe we can link in the show notes about, I think it specifically had to do with girls and kids who identify as girls and about, it was like patriarchy stuff, right? Because this is reminding me of how many times particularly are girls taught like, no, you have to share. It’s not kind or it’s not generous or it’s not. I think there’s a gender split here. It’s reminding me of that episode that I sound silly for mentioning now. I can’t tell you at all what it was about. I think it was like how to help raise my…

Dr. Sarah (19:30):

Are you talking about the nice girl stuff. like how to not have your daughter be a people pleaser.

Dr. Rebecca (19:35):

People pleaser. Yes. That’s what it was. That’s the episode. Exactly. Because teaching our child to share something that is special to them when they really don’t want to share it isn’t necessarily the best message. And so I think, Sarah, what you’re saying is really valuable. Teaching our kids the ability to know themselves and know what they want and think strategically about what they want to do with regard to sharing is the better skill. Now that happens over time. And certainly we have to go through all permutations. You’re going to share something that you regret sharing, and then you’re going to, it’s all part of the process. But I don’t think that there needs to be this knee jerk response of sharing is always good. Sharing is always better.

Dr. Sarah (20:24):

I totally agree. If you were an adult and someone just came up and took your laptop while you were using it and being like, well, you need to share that. I want to turn with that, you’d be like, get away from me. You would not just come up and take my laptop and have someone else tell me no, your time’s up. Give it to them.

Dr. Rebecca (20:45):

Well, a better analogy is like you invite someone over to your home for dinner and then you find them in your bedroom using your stuff. It’s like, just I invited you here. Doesn’t mean everything is yours to use. I mean, and so again, I think that’s, yeah, that analogy is actually helpful.

Dr. Sarah (21:08):

But I think I’m hoping we answered, I think we answered this from a lot of different angles. And first and foremost, just a recap, we were like, you do not need to be embarrassed. And I think we also gave parents from all sides of this, some tools for reducing the stigma of having a child who’s not sharing in the moment as the parent of the child, but also as the parent witnessing this, having language around, not thinking of sharing as nice or mean, but thinking of it as a skill. And sometimes we can access that skill and sometimes we have a harder time doing it and everyone’s trying and it’s hard. And I just really think that speaks to the parental fear of being judged as a parent of a kid who doesn’t share and can’t play nice, and all the other fears that come with that. Like, oh my gosh, they won’t make any friends. And then everyone’s going to exclude them because the ones that don’t share, and it’s a fear. So I think the more, as a group of parents collectively being human with each other, we could try to shift that. That would be great. That could come out of this episode. That would be fantastic.


But then just also locating this behavior on a developmental timeline and saying, at two and a half, it’s not even going to happen. Just move on as they get a little older. My daughter is now five. We’re working on it regularly. And that’s the other thing I think is important. It’s not that I don’t value sharing, you know what I mean? I just recognize…

Dr. Rebecca (22:44):

Why do you hate sharing, Sarah?

Dr. Sarah (22:46):

God. Yeah. I think it’s good to share. I just think you get there. Sharing is a byproduct. It isn’t something you can just make a kid do. If you want your kid to share, you’ve got to do other stuff first. So focus on that stuff and the sharing will follow. But yeah, just reframing that kind of goal on where people are in the developmental kind of space. And then some really concrete strategies for how to actually prep your kid. What can you actually say? What tools can you give them? So I’m hoping this felt good. And thank you guys. We’ll see you soon.

Dr. Emily (23:26):


Dr. Rebecca (23:26):


Dr. Sarah (23:30):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.

✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨

209. BTS: How can I get my toddler to share?