If someone walked up to you and grabbed your phone and walked off with it, how would you feel?
Would you be happy to “share” it?
Depends on the situation, right, but it’s unlikely you would be that happy about it, especially if it was someone you didn’t know, or you were just in the middle of typing a message to someone.
This is how your toddler feels when someone takes “their” toy. They might not be as fond of that toy as you are of your phone, but in the moment, it’s exactly the same situation.
Here’s another question for you: As an adult, how often do you actually share your stuff?
It’s not that often people come round to my house and go through my stuff and take what they want. If I do share anything with people, it’s usually friends or family, and it’s something I know I’m going to get back again. It’s probably not going to be something I am right in the middle of using.
Last question! If you have young children, how often do you share your things with them?
I have a suspicion that you do a fair amount of telling them they can’t play with something of yours, that they need to play with their own toys. For example, would you prefer they played with a dummy TV remote, or the real thing? How about your makeup, kitchen knives, or power tools? There is a good reason why we don’t always share with our toddlers, but from their point of view, what are they hearing when they want to play with something that isn’t theirs? Can you see where they might learn to be possessive from?
So as adults, we don’t like it when people take our stuff, we don’t share with others that often, and we unwittingly teach our kids how to be possessive of things that are “ours”. If sharing is so difficult for adults, it’s no wonder it’s so difficult for toddlers, especially when you take the toddler’s stage of development into account.
What are we actually talking about when we talk about “sharing”? With children, especially toddlers, we’re not really talking about sharing in the true sense of the word, where you cut a cake into pieces and everyone gets a bit. What we are talking about is borrowing, or taking turns. It’s really helpful to remember this, and change the terminology we use away from “sharing”, and use “taking turns” instead.
Also, as adults, we can think rationally and analytically – If you came into Suffolk Babies and I walked up to you and grabbed your phone you would realise that of course I’m not going to actually take your phone, that would be crazy. Maybe there’s something wrong and maybe I have a good reason to take your phone. Or perhaps you would revert to more of a toddler state and just shout “Noooooo!! My precious!!”
Children don’t have the ability to think rationally and logically about things until at least the age of 7. So your toddler is WAY off being able to work out that another child is not going to take their toy away from them for ever and ever. As far as they are concerned, their favourite thing has been snatched away from them and they don’t like it! The alarm systems in the brain kick in, leading to a surge of adrenaline so they fight tooth and nail to get it back, or it’s the end of the world and they become hugely upset. They can’t help but overreact as they don’t have the ability yet to put the situation into perspective.
The other issue is that they don’t have much empathy towards another child who likes a toy. Empathy starts to develop at quite a young age, but a toddler is utterly unable to put themselves in another’s shoes and understand that the other child also wants the toy so it might be nice to let them have a go.
Unfortunately for toddlers they have no choice but to be selfish – their brains don’t have the ability to be anything else. It’s really not their fault, and nothing you need to “fix”.
What is the best way to deal with it?
- Firstly accept that your child CANNOT share.
- Model and practise taking turns
Can you think of some situations where you can practise taking turns? You can use a little timer, maybe have 30 seconds each with the toy. By practising turn taking your child will eventually learn that they will get a go and it’s not a bad thing. It might help when you are out at toddler groups or with friends, or it might not! Don’t forget, you can’t hurry along their brain development and make their brain more mature than it actually is.
If children get into a fight over a toy, calmly remove them from the situation. Explain to your child that they need to take turns, but don’t punish them for not sharing. Empathise with them as they will be feeling awful. Don’t bother to try and get them to apologise to the other child – they are not sorry! Would you be sorry if someone took your phone and you tried to get it back? You can apologise on their behalf instead. Try distracting either your child or the other child with a different toy.
If it becomes too much of an issue, see if you can avoid situations you know are going to be difficult. If there is a particular toy that causes issues, put it away when friends come round, or ask them to put it away if it is at theirs. Instead choose activities that are less of a problem, e.g. go to the park or the beach, or do an activity like making rice crispy cakes, where there is plenty of everything for everyone.
It can be really hard if your toddler or pre-schooler seems to be particularly possessive over everything. My nearly six-year old still has a problem with my friend bringing her toddler round, as the toddler wants to play with all Stella’s things and Stella hates it. But when it’s on her terms, and her own friends, it’s much easier. I’d say from the age of around 4 playdates got a lot easier for both my children. Like so many of these things, it is just a phase. It’s not their fault and it’s no reflection on either their character or your parenting.