My Toddler Prefers to Play Alone and Not Share Toys

Fear not: your lone wolf may well lead the pack someday

Toddler Prefers to Play Alone and Not Share Toys
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Let’s face it: toddlers often feel like miniature teenagers.

One minute they’re laughing and playing with their friends, the next minute they’re off by themselves in a corner. You tell them that they have to share, and they double down on the “mine!” factor.

We parents come from a place of “sharing is caring.” So it can feel like a very personal reflection when your toddler howls like she’s being burned when you ask her to please let other kids take a turn with her favorite toy.

While your child’s behavior may feel a bit anti-social, the truth is at this key developmental stage, your toddler is not alone. In fact, testing the boundaries of social convention is exactly what being a toddler is all about. 

Emotional and Social Development

From the 18th to the 24th month, children are developing a sense of independence and of self-existence. They feel like they can express themselves better. (“No!” as you’ve probably noticed, is a serious toddler game changer.) They can walk and discover the whole world by themselves. Finally, they see their toys as their own.

During this period, toddlers live in a very self-directed  manner, and it doesn’t mean they are spoiled in the least. It’s just part of the process.

Playing alone for a period of time at this stage is also totally normal. They like the feeling that they can do make their own way. Watch carefully: you might notice that once your child begins to miss others, she or he will find a reason to ask for help.

Now, lest you think your child is the only lone wolf in the pack, think about how often you have you watched kids playing side by side and not together. Chances are, you’ve seen this more often than not. Having a two-year-old’s ability to indulge in single-minded focus isn’t terrible in the least; in fact, it’s pretty terrific.

When children reach three-years-old, you’ll notice that as with all ages and phases, it changes again. You’ll see them begin to pay special attention to others and start making friends.

The Problem With Sharing

play and share toys with other kids
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Imagine that you just won a new car. Would you immediately hand the wheel over to the person sitting next to you, or would you hop in and give it a spin first?

That’s pretty similar to what is happening to your child. Once they realize that a toy is theirs to play with, they get swept up in the idea of ownership. Now, the toy might not be exclusively his or hers alone, but in their developing minds, it’s hard to imagine letting their new-found love go to someone else.

This sense of possession is so powerful, that in some cases, your child will fight to hold onto that toy. While you can rest assured this too shall pass, in the meantime you can try a sharing game (for example, “now it’s my turn,” “now it’s your turn”) to help foster a more generous spirit. 

As you weather this phase, keep in mind that children are affected by emotional moments of their parents. The level of emotional communication is different, so use symbols to express ideas and emotions. This is particularly frequent when roleplaying and playing with dolls – so keep your eyes peeled for when your child needs help navigating the waters of independence and self-possession.

And when your child insists on alone time, consider taking a page out of your toddler’s book. Self-care by taking time for yourself is as important for your own growth and development as it is for your child.

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Written by Inês Santos

Inês is a psychologist with several years of experience working with children and teenagers in different contexts. She loves to share her knowledge to help other people and writes based not only based on scientific evidence, but also on the experience she has accumulated through her work.