Q: Our 6-month-old daughter shares a baby sitter with another 6-month-old every day. The baby sitter has reported some disturbing behavior emerging. Every time the other baby picks up a toy, our daughter takes it out of her hands. How can we teach our daughter to share?
A: You are worrying about this way too early! Sharing is an unnatural activity even for a 2- or 3-year-old. Children do not really cooperate in their play until about age 6. Even then the words "mine" and "my turn" are frequently heard.
Don't be harsh with your baby. She is acting in a perfectly normal way. She cannot and should not understand the concept of sharing at this age. It is the job of a 6-month-old to grab and explore. She should be reaching for every object that catches her eye. That a toy is currently being enjoyed by someone else is of no consequence to her.
The fact that your daughter is apparently grabbing more often than the other child represents a difference in their levels of activity or their temperaments. It is not that your child is bad (selfish), and the other one good (willing to share). Adult ideas of fairness do not apply here.
Your sitter can handle the needs of both babies by having plenty of interesting and safe toys around for two. Infants have very short attention spans. They will want to switch from one thing to the next quite frequently. If one does take a toy from the other, another toy can simply be substituted for the one temporarily lost or gained. Besides, at this age, there is no reason why your sitter needs to position the babies so closely together that they can grab from each other, since they are way too young to actually play with each other. Being able to see each other is enough.
As your daughter gets older and begins to be able to put words with actions, you and her sitter will have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate "taking turns." It will be a lesson which will need to be repeated gently but firmly over and over for many years to come, but not at six months!
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.