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Ask Mr. Dad: What's yours is mine, and other toddler rules

Armin Brott, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter is almost two and refuses to share her toys. As if that weren't bad enough, she also snatches toys from any other kids within reaching distance. It's gotten to the point where I'm almost too embarrassed to allow her to go to other kids' houses on playdates or to have anyone else over to our house. How can I teach my daughter to share?

A: Years ago, I took a picture of a cute poster called "Toddler Property Rules" that was on the wall of a daycare one of my kids was going to. Some of the highlights include:

If I like it, it's mine.

If I'm holding it, it's mine.

If you're holding it and I want it, it's mine.

If you were playing with it and put it down, it's mine.

If I gave it to you and have since changed my mind, it's mine.

Got it? The point is that sharing is not a skill that many toddlers possess. In fact, the behavior you're describing -- which the parents of all of your daughter's friends are very familiar with -- is perfectly normal. Actually, it's more than normal: it's an important developmental phase.

At this age, toddlers are still convinced that the universe revolves around them and that everyone and everything they can see is not only theirs but is actually part of them. Territorial battles may be unpleasant or embarrassing to watch, but they're teaching some important lessons about identity and empathy. First, you (the toddler) are separate from other people and objects and you don't have control over everything or everyone. Second, it doesn't feel very nice when someone else snatches things from you. These lessons are hard to teach and are best learned "on the job," and if you step in to smooth things out, you may be interfering with your daughter's development.

At the same time, there are a few things you can do to help speed that development along while reducing some of that playdate-induced embarrassment you're feeling.

Prepare. Ask your daughter if she wants other kids to share with her, and remind her that if she wants that to happen (and of course she does), she's going to have to reciprocate.

Pack. Some toys are just too precious to share, and that's fine. Have your daughter identify those and get them out of the room (if the playdate is in someone else's home, just leave those special toys in the car).

Practice. While playing alone with your child at home, ask to borrow a block, a doll, or a toy. Use the language of sharing whenever possible: "Will you share this with me? I promise I'll give it back when I'm done." When you do give it back, say out loud, "Here you are -- thanks for sharing!"

Be fair. Sharing goes both ways. If one child grabs a toy from another, step in immediately, return the toy to the child who had it first, and remind the other of the oldest ethical principle on Earth: "How would you like it if she grabbed something away from you?" Remind both kids to ask nicely, take turns, and facilitate trades if feasible. But use your words as much as possible (I'm talking to you, adults). If you grab a toy from one child to return it to another, you're telling both kids that snatching is okay, as long as the snatcher is bigger than the snatchee.

Remember, sharing is a learned behavior, and with your help, your child can and will master it. Eventually.

(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to armin@mrdad.com.)

(c)2017 Armin Brott

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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