This article first appeared in the August 2009 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
There”s nothing more adorable than the sight of a toddler happily immersed in an afternoon of play. Wee hands stack blocks and peals of excited laughter escape from his tiny body as playtime ensues. But when two toddlers come face to face during playtime, they’re ready for a showdown, and their battle cry in a playground full of toys rings: It’s mine!
“If I want it, it’s mine!” The toddler’s creed goes something like this: “If I want it, it’s mine. If I take it away from you, it’s mine. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine…” and so on. “A toddler is very egocentric at this stage, and this is why he refuses to share his toys -- his prized possessions,” explains JP Sordan, preschool teacher at Summit School in Taguig City.
What goes on in a toddler’s mind when he refuses to share? Ina Syquia, curriculum directress of L.E.A.P. in Quezon City sheds some light on this troubling toddler puzzle. “First, you have to think of your toddler’s characteristics and his needs,” she begins. When your child passes his first year, he will realize the desire to be independent, but becoming aware of this newfound need is equally frustrating.
At the time of his life when the world is both an exciting an overwhelming place, a toddler can’t help but assert his claim on everything he sets his eyes on. ”They’re determined to master control whatever it is that’s going on around them,” says Syquia, who has a Master’s degree in Infant Toddler Studies from Wheelock College in Massachusetts.
“If I take it away from you, it’s mine!” When caught between two quarrelling tykes, neither will back down until you play referee! “They feel like the world revolves around them,” Sordan says. But there’s no need to worry about your toddler growing up to be a selfish individual; he just hasn’t fully comprehended his needs and his feelings -- more so those of another toddler’s. “They are in a developmental stage wherein they cannot empathize yet. They don’t know that they’re hurting another child’s feelings when they refuse to share,” Sordan continues.
At this developmental stage you can’t expect two toddlers to play together just yet. The most these tots can do is sit side by side -- and hope that a toddler squabble won’t arise during playtime. But what can you do to keep this from happening? Here are some tips from Sordan and Syquia:
1. Double the fun. Make sure you have duplicates of the children’s toys. This way, both toddlers will remain happily engrossed with their own set of markers or blocks and won’t notice the other’s playthings. Also, before going on a play date, sit with your toddler and look at his toys. Bring only the toys he is willing to share with his playmates.
2. Intervene. If toddlers have to share their toys, then you must act as mediator between the tots. When sharing markers as they draw, you’ll have to make sure that toddlers take turns. “’Can she borrow the marker?’ And if he says no, you then say, ‘Okay, but in 10 counts, can you lend it?’” Syquia suggests. “Taking turns can be expected as long as there is a guarantee that the toddler will get the toy back,” she adds.
3. Praise in play “Always encourage them to share and don’t forget to praise them when they do,” says Sordan. What’s important for a toddler is to feel that what he’s doing is right, so after he shares or takes turns with another child, be generous with praise. Remind your little one to also say thank you. This way, the behavior that you want your child to follow is acknowledged, and he’s sure to remember it next time.
“If we are building something together, all the pieces are mine!” Before your toddler can start interacting with another toddler, you must first show him that he’s growing up in a supportive environment. Syquia explains: “This is in tune with the toddler’s needs -- trust, autonomy, and initiative. They need somebody they can trust to understand what’s going on inside them.”
Once you have provided your little one with this setup, he can slowly begin to understand himself and eventually, the feelings of other toddlers. This lesson of course, is learned gradually, and you may still have to act as mediator between two fighting and tantrum-throwing toddlers. To handle any toddler playground match, consider the following situations and their possible solutions:
1. The good word. Toddlers are slowly starting to express themselves verbally, and you can teach them the best way to talk to another toddler who wants to take his toy away. “You can teach them to say no or ‘That's mine’ or ‘I’m using it’ and ‘That hurts!’ when another toddler starts to get physical,” Syquia suggests.
2. Distract to detach When toddlers have their eye on the same toy, grabbing can occur. Before fighting can begin, step in and distract the toddler with another toy. Syquia offers this solution: “You can say, ‘Oh look at this toy!’ while the other toddler is already playing with the object of conflict. Or you can remove the child from the situation and bring him to another place where there’s another interesting toy.”
3. Show and tell “Toddlers communicate with their hands because they think it’s the easiest way to get their message across,” explains Syquia. When both toddlers reach for the same toy, and one of them hits the other child, you must explain to them the situation. Comfort the one who was hurt, and properly reprimand the child who hit. Make sure that both parties see these actions, so they’ll both know that their needs are being attended to. This way, a toddler will understand his feelings, and also see the consequences of his actions on another toddler.