One of the most common conflicts in the playroom is over toys! Kids are excited to play with their favorite things at The Family Place. With toys that don’t belong to a particular child it can be difficult to know how to handle a situation when multiple kids want the same thing or when toys are grabbed away from a child. Here’s how I choose to handle toy-grabbing:

Young toddlers don’t have the words to ask for things they want, so they may take toys out of other children’s hands. The child who had a toy suddenly taken away may yell, cry, or even hit. This is a great time to do some social-emotional coaching. I want to tell the toy-grabber that it is not okay to take toys; you have to ask first. Even the youngest child can learn to “ask” by signing “please” (a flat hand circling their heart). Giving children a sign or the words even before they are able to do them on their own sets up expectations. Start with signing "please," then they could say, “my turn” or “me please” building up to being able to say, “May I have a turn?” I would then remind the child that we take toys out of the boxes, not out of other children’s hands.

The child may have a big emotional reaction to this correction.  I can empathize by saying, “You really wanted that toy” or, “I see you are really upset.” I want to let the child know that I hear and see how upset they are, but I am not going to reward them by giving back the toy that was grabbed. It is ok for them to be sad or upset, I may offer to hold them or suggest a new toy choice when they are a little calmer.

I also want to give the child who had a toy taken away some skills to build on. Let them know they do not have to give up a toy to anyone who takes it. Give them words like, “It’s my turn” or “You can play when I’m done”. I want to help kids stick up for themselves and talk to other kids directly about what they want and then ask a grown up for help if they need it. I also want to give them words to describe how they feel, “You did not like that, you are feeling very upset” I’m not going to make them repeat the words after me, just hearing them from me will help them know what to do next time. When they are done with the toy I may remind them to offer it to the child who wanted it.

I don’t believe that kids should be forced to share. We as adults do not give over our most prized possessions anytime someone asks for them, so I want to respect children’s choices about when and what to share as well.  I will praise children when they give someone else a turn to reinforce that this is a desired behavior, but I want that child to be the one who decides to share, not me. I want them to learn patience and kindness, especially with younger children. I will remind them that babies don’t know how to ask, and show them how to gently trade toys with a baby to get their toy back or to show other children where they can find their own toy.

Here’s a link to a great article by Heather Schumaker, author of several parenting books, including “It’s OK Not to Share...And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.”