elevating child care

Toddler Toy Battles – Interventions That Work

The interventions we use when children battle over toys or engage in other social struggles are reflective of our perceptions of their abilities, as well as our general attitudes toward learning and ‘struggle’. Do we perceive babies, toddlers and preschoolers as basically capable? Or fragile and needy? Are our children born active, self-directed learners (as child specialist Magda Gerber asserted), or do they need us to manage their development from day one?  Should we prevent children from struggling, avoid frustration and disappointment, or are age-appropriate conflicts healthy learning opportunities?

My experiences working with infants and toddlers confirm Magda Gerber’s assertions about their competency and the benefits of allowing them to learn through conflict. In my recent post, Share… Wait Your Turn… Don’t Touch… Playdate Rules That Limit Learning, I shared intervention techniques she recommended for helping kids learn from social struggles and some of the reasoning behind this approach. I’m using this podcast to demonstrate and elaborate further:

More on this topic:

What to do About a Toddler Toy Taker

Helping Toddler Resolve Conflicts – Rules of Engagement

5 Benefits of Sportscasting Your Child’s Struggles

The S Word – Toddlers Learning To Share

The Baby Social Scene – 5 Hints for Creating Safe and Joyful Playgroups

5 Reasons to Love Conflict by Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children

Toddler Bites by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

We Can Work it Out! Kids & Conflict Management by Sarah Morrison and Kelly Meier, Respectful Parent

Could NOT Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? by Kate RussellPeaceful Parents, Confident Kids

These Toddlers Are NOT Sharing

Don’t Fix These Toddler Struggles

Baby Tug Of War, We’re Just Playing

We Can Work it Out! Kids & Conflict Management

My books: Elevating Child Care and No Bad Kids are now available on Audible!

(Photo by Valentina Powers on Flickr)

Related Posts with Thumbnails

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19 Responses to “Toddler Toy Battles – Interventions That Work”

  1. avatar Kelly says:

    Janet- thank u so much for the podcast! It is so much easier to absorb and understand by hearing the tone of your voice.
    Do the same rules apply with siblings? I can’t help feeling that my younger daughter is at such a disadvantage ( though not for long ) and wanting to defend her. Please help me understand how to handle these conflicts between different age or peer groups.
    Thank you so very much for your posts and pod casts. I am always finding the inspiration I need!

    • avatar janet says:

      Thanks, Kelly! I began the podcast including some advice about siblings, but then it became too long and complicated. I have the tendency to want to share EVERYTHING I know all at once!

      The same rules apply. The big difference is that it is even more crucial for siblings to figure out how to play together and they need even more room to develop their relationship than friends do. Also, you will not be there to monitor them as you probably would with a playdate. Keeping your emotions unplugged and staying neutral when there is an age gap is even more challenging, but it’s important. Choose your battles and let a lot of things slide. The things you let slide (like toy taking) will become far less interesting to do. Remember, YOU set the tone. If possible, I would give your older child a place where she can protect her projects so that her sister does not interrupt or destroy them. Remind yourself that their relationship is not yours to judge… As I repeat in the post, just let it be!

      • avatar Jaime says:

        I have two questions (just now exploring RIE.

        I took my son (22 months) to a YMCA playgroup. It is for ages birth – 5 years and has different stations for different age groups. There was a five year old boy there and he was definitely bullying my son. He was taking every toy my son had and walking past him in a huge uncrowded gym and ramming his shoulder into my son’s chest as he walked by and pretending it was an accident. I didn’t see a parent there for him – he seemed to be the nephew of one of the Y facilitators but she was busy and not paying attention to him. My son is a large boy – the five year old was only four inches taller than my son but my son is definitely larger in muscle mass. Son didn’t fuss or cry but just kept looking at me when this kid would take something or run into him. I stayed close to my son and started putting my arm between them when the five year old would reach toward my son to take something or walk by to run into him and just prevented any contact. My son didn’t seem interested in engaging with him and he was just trying to bully my kid. I have no idea if I handled it correctly but I wasn’t going to allow the kid to be so physical with him. At one point I said to the boy, “I won’t let you touch him again.” He lost interest at that point and left the gym. Is there a better way I should handle this?

        The other question is about my two kids (22 months and four months). My 4 month old is rolling over and keeping her head up pretty well. My 22 month old son takes every toy she touches, takes it across the room and drops it on the floor just so she can’t play with it. I’m not sure the letting kids take toys rule applies in this situation because a four month old can’t understand language yet – she just cries half the time. She doesn’t get to play with anything. How do I handle this?

  2. avatar Mary Jane says:

    This is great, so helpful janet, thank you. I’m teaching at a dance camp and have 14 students assigned to me, all 5 yrs old. The other day a girl got her feelings hurt because her friend didn’t feel like holding her hand. She cried, was very upset, and I sportscasted and awknowledge her feelings. This went on for a long time, My question is it got to the point where there is one of me and 14 of them, and the rest of the class needed me. I struggled with what to do, I didn’t want to rush the little girl into getting over her feelings for the sake of moving on, but couldn’t leave the other 13 . Do you have suggestions of how to support a child when this happens in a class setting? If it was a free play kind of scenario we would have all the time in the world, but in this camp setting I feel pressure to stick to the schedule. :s

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Mary Jane! I would try to give her a cozy place to be, near where you are. Take her hand and help her if you need to move somewhere. Be very comfortable and accepting. This isn’t about focusing a lot of attention on the child; it is simply maintaining an attitude of calm acceptance.

  3. avatar Mary Jane says:

    Gotcha. Thank you Janet!

  4. avatar Alison says:

    Thank you again Janet, another timely post. For me the phrase ‘I prevent the physical action but allow the struggle’ really helps. My boisterous 2 year old has been pushing and grabbing and I’ve been struggling to balance letting her sort things out but not hurting others. That and the need to support her. I’ve been backing off a bit too much I think.
    Thanks again

  5. avatar Sara B says:

    I have been trying this with my 2 children. I have a 9 month old and a 2 year old. My concern is it is usually the baby that is getting his toys taken away and can’t really do anything about it. Sometimes the baby doesn’t care and just rolls to another toy and sometimes my toddler will offer him a replacement toy but sometimes the baby really just wants to explore the toy that was taken away and he has no way to negotiate that. Do I just point out that he is crying to my toddler or how would you suggest I handle it?

    • avatar janet says:

      Toddlers are very aware and I’m sure yours sees when her brother is crying, so I would not point this out to her. I would just reflect to the baby, “You had that and now your sister has it. That upset you.” Now, if this object was something your baby was using to ease teething pain, I would find a couple of teething items and offer them to your baby, allowing him to choose. “Is your mouth hurting? Here are a couple of toys that might help.” If the toy taking is repetitive, I would calmly stop your daughter. “I’m going to stop you this time… and let your brother keep this toy. Please find another way to play with him.” Generally, your daughter is displaying impulsive behavior that is normal and understandable. The more neutral and uninvolved you can be in this harmless behavior, the less it will happen.

  6. avatar Christy says:

    Thank you for your post. One question though… My two year old daughter is lately the one taking all the toys from kids at the playground. Although we trust her to work through these struggles, almost every other parent does not act in this way. They all make their children share with my daughter, so she ends up with all the toys regularly, and then the parents look at her and us as parents with a glare because our child is holding all the toys. Since they don’t allow their kids to “fight back” and they are forced to share, am I actually helping my daughter? We even find ourselves telling the other children they don’t have to give the toys to her and they can hold on to it if they want to. It feels like the only real life option is to play by their rules, even though we strongly agree with your philosophy.

    • avatar janet says:

      Yes, I would probably “play by their rules”, because you don’t want your daughter’s behavior frowned upon… But I would also be her advocate and acknowledge things like, “It seems you are trying to play with this boy… I can’t let you take his toy… Maybe there’s another way you can engage him and play together…” This will at least help explain to the other parents what is going on… and it’s the truth!

  7. avatar Magdalena says:

    Hi Janet. I was wondering what you would do when it’s somehow the opposite and your child never takes a toy from another kid and avoids struggling when he is taken a toy from? At playgrounds or playgroups, when my exactly 2-year-old son is taken a toy from his hands he doesn’t cry, or run to catch the toy again. He remains calm and, if I am beside him, he just asks ” What does Jack want?” or “Jack wants…?” Expecting me to finish the sentence. Of course, I remain calm, and tell him that Jack also wanted that toy, but I also insist that he could have also hold tight to that toy. In the end I seem to be the more upset of us three!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Magdalena! This is an excellent self-observation: “In the end I seem to be the more upset of us three!” I would work on removing your adult lens — your investments and projections — and trust your boy’s process much more. I would not assume that he wants the toy and say those things to him. Maybe simply and casually say, “I saw that”, if he looks at you. Children need space and time to figure these situations out.

  8. avatar Jen Norris says:

    Hi Janet,

    I’m working through one concept from this podcast, and my lightbulb is switched on, but still warming up. So spot me on this, please?

    My son Sam (18 months) is just learning how to play with others. He held a hand broom and dustpan, and was walking around the campground this morning as we packed up. Another girl, about 5 (?) came up and wanted the broom. Sam didn’t want to give it up, and started crying so I walked over and started reflecting what was going on – his feelings, the girl’s request, their shared desire to have the broom.

    I felt compelled (societal pressure?) to have him give her the broom! And yet, I also felt (sub-consciously?) like this was not the best solution to meet anyone’s goals. BUT, I proceeded to try and convince him to give her the broom, and <> even tried to move his fingers. Of course, predictably, Sam got more upset.

    He wasn’t done playing with it! I didn’t understand this in the moment, and I certainly didn’t support him. That lack of support was probably **more** upsetting than this girl pulling at the broom. Ohhhhh, Sam, I’m so sorry!

    Now my inclination is to continue reflecting feelings and observations, check my own expectations and assumptions, and simply offer, “Sam’s not done playing with the broom. You can have a turn when he’s finished.”

    Am I understanding the gist of your message here? I’d like to think that I practice RIE, but in this example, ugh, I’d like to slink away and hide under a rock back at the campsite.

    Thanks for this and many other inspirations.

  9. avatar janet says:

    Aww, no need to slink away. 🙂 These can be difficult situations to navigate. I would not do either a. (pry his fingers off) or, b. (protect his “turn” and say that he’s not done playing with the broom). Instead, I would be open to allowing the children to engage. I would simply reflect, “Wow, you are really wanting to hold on to that broom and this girl wants to use it. Hmmm…” Give the children a bit of time and open space that is totally free of your emotions and judgment and see what occurs. This is how children learn to engage with each other and build social skills and self-confidence. As Magda Gerber used to say, “Sometimes we win; sometimes we lose”. It is ALL safe and okay…and even positive.

  10. avatar Serena says:

    So when your child is the one who is getting toys taken away or having another child bully her verbally or trying to control their play. Do you just observe and let the child learn how do defend herself her own way? Or is it ok to give her the words to defend herself?

  11. avatar Alyssa says:

    Hi Janet, thank you so much for this. I do have a question on how to handle a situation when both children are holding onto and refusing to let go of the same toy. This gets dangerous because both children are putting all of their weight into struggling. I’ve been taking the toy from both kids and removing it. Is there a better way to handle that? I had considered removing the “taking” child from the situation and finding a distraction, but I don’t always know for sure who that is.

  12. avatar Jordan says:

    My daughter, 3yo loves to grab toys from her best friend, a boy 4yo. She takes it, laughs and then runs. The little boy gets upset and yells. He eventually runs after her and they play chase. She usually gives it back and then does it again. They seem to have fun when they are chasing each other. But the little boy does want his toy back. Should I be present for this and sportscast or let it play out? It seems like good fun to me but I want to make sure that this back and forth chase game isn’t really distressing the little boy. I’m also 8 months pregnant and unable to chase anyone around to get the toy back. My daughter moves pretty fast! Thanks so much in advance- LOVE your articles and your book!

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