After observing babies playing together for many years now, I’ve learned a lot about infant and toddler socialization and formed some fairly strong opinions. So, when I read a point of view from another professional that I disagree with, it’s hard for me to resist weighing in. Recently, I entered into a mini-debate about toddlers, toys and ownership that I thought worth sharing.
The discussion was stimulated by Baby Teamwork (Sharing Because They Want To), the video I recently posted showing 3 toddlers peacefully sharing a toy. It had been shared on Real Child Development’s Facebook page. First, a parent commented…
Jeni: The thing I find difficult is that although we’ve brought Ben up modeling sharing rather than forcing it, he is now having to learn the hard way that very few other children have grown up like this and he’s having to learn to protect the things he is playing with because nobody else knows how to play together!!
Then, Alice of Denali Parent Coaching comments…
Alice: This is a beautiful video…and I appreciate the lack of adult intervention/interaction. Sharing emerges from ownership, then turn taking…But ownership comes first. A child needs to feel secure that his interest in something will be respected and given the full time needed to ‘own’ it. Only then can they give another a turn, only then can sharing emerge.
I spot this with my eagle eye and respond…
Janet (me): Denali Parent Coaching, I appreciate your comment. I respectfully disagree about “ownership coming first”. “Ownership” is a concept babies and young toddlers (happily) do not yet understand, although adults often try to instill it in them. The scene in the video would *never* have happened if we were protecting “ownership”, i.e., saying “she’s using this, don’t touch until she’s done”, or whatever… Our well-intentioned interventions unwittingly create the problems @Jeni is speaking about…children who don’t know how to play together. They simply haven’t had enough chances to figure out how to interact without adults getting in their way. If an older child, 2-3 years or older has an obvious project that he or she is intently working on, we wouldn’t allow another child to disrupt it, but younger babies and toddlers interact by giving things and taking them away…and they are usually fine with that, as long as we don’t project that it’s a problem.
Alice: What a great discussion! Let me share how I view ownership…I see ‘ownership’ as a young child having plenty of time to play with and explore whatever they have/are doing…and as another child interacts, it is an adult’s job to observe, and then respect a child’s feelings of perhaps not ready to give up their toy to the other who may have ‘taken’ it. Helping them id their feelings, describe what is happening (great language opp. for little ones!), give them an opportunity to find another toy, or gently letting the one who ‘took’ know the first child would like to finish their turn is important. And it role models healthy and positive negotiating skills for those difficult moments. When a young child knows for sure they can play until they feel finished is when they can then more easily flow with the movement of toys from one to another. In the video there were no ‘ownership’ issues–it all flowed, so no reason whatsoever for an adult to step in. I would venture to say the children in this video have had their ownership rights respected, and felt no angst as a result. So yes, adults stay in the observation mode, and at the same time, as needed, be there to affirm, put words to feelings, and role model respect via descriptive words and guidance. Does this clarify my original thoughts for you?
Janet (me): Thank you, yes it does clarify a bit, although I still disagree about intervening with children this age to protect or establish “ownership”. And that has never been done with these children. This video would not have been possible if we did that. I guarantee it. These children are used to being trusted to work out their minor conflicts…and because of that, they seldom have them. What appears as “ownership” to us is not usually perceived as such to the child. The child is interested in the interaction with another, more than they are interested in a particular object.
I agree about describing what is happening and that is what we do in the RIE classes, in a completely non-judgmental manner… We call it ‘sportscasting’. “You were holding that and now Lily has it.” Seldom do children this age object to toys being taken away when the adults don’t react as if it’s a problem. In fact, this is the way children commonly make connections and “play together”. The child who has been “taken” from usually finds something else or may choose on their own to wait until the toy is free again.
If someone is a little upset (and that is rare…usually when a child is tired) we provide verbal support and comfort if needed (“You wanted that and Bob has it now”), but we don’t tell the children what to do. They resolve things independently almost always, but only because they have been trusted to do so. Thanks for the discussion!
As it turns out, Alice and I have similar child care views and from what I have learned about her, I recommend her coaching. Certainly our exchange was focused on subtleties that might seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But if you value toddler social intelligence as much as I do, it’s worth splitting hairs over finer points. After all, our babies are going to be running the world in the not too distant future.
Alice Hanscam received her bachelor’s degree in Child Study from Tufts University in Massachusetts in 1983. She earned her Masters level Parent Coach Certification through the Parent Coaching Institute and Seattle Pacific University in Washington State in 2008. Alice’s passion for supporting families extends over 30 years. She has taught preschool, co-directed an infant/toddler center, mentored infant and toddler daycare providers, taught parent education classes, and actively parented her own two (now young adult) daughters.
Alice (and Leslie from Real Child Development) thank you for allowing me to post this conversation!
In summary, it’s been my experience that when we allow this:
We make it possible for toddlers to play like this:
I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts…