Should We Stop Babies From Taking Toys? (Another Respectful Debate)

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:

And this:

We make it possible for toddlers to play like this:

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts…


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. i’m loving that this topic is being expanded on!
    great discussion… and i have a couple questions.

    i totally see how effective not interfering and establishing “ownership” is with these younger toddlers – and i agree, adult intervention would have taken the situation down a completely different avenue indeed.

    but what about older toddlers and preschoolers? and interacting with the world at large – that doesn’t always parent in the same way i do?

    my guy’s 27 months old and sharing is a big deal right now. he’s almost always the one having something taken from him and is rarely one to take from another but i do feel a responsibility to “stick up” for his right to continue to play/explore with what he’s using if another child comes up to him and swipes it – if it upsets him.

    i don’t jump in until i can see that he’s not okay with what’s happened or if i can tell it’s going to be a problem. if a toy’s taken and he’s okay with it – great! but that’s so infrequently the case at this age. just a couple months ago it was a different story.

    so i do find myself stepping in when i feel it’s necessary.
    i try to do it a non-judgmental way and sportscast what i’m observing and i try to offer up the words so he’ll learn what is appropriate in those situations. and i also want him to feel supported, understood etc.

    but, i feel like if i don’t intervene (when it’s becoming an issue) which would be absolutely ideal, indeed, it just ends up with my son upset and crying. and i’m okay with the crying and more than happy to support his feelings with big upsets – i’m certainly not trying to avoid them – but i just worry that if i didn’t step in, social gatherings would likely become one upset after the next: no fun for anyone.

    so what do you recommend for older toddlers? my general approach has been what alice described:
    if another child is taking something from dylan and it’s clear he is upset by that or isn’t ready to give it up, i will gently step in and let the other child know that he’s still playing/doing whatever-it-is and i encourage them to make another choice and then i often mention to dylan that another child would like xyz when he’s ready to move on.

    often he’s happy to when he feels he can do it on his own terms and not have something ripped from his hands, forcing the issue rather than letting it unfold naturally.

    any thoughts/input would be very welcome!! thanks so much… i couldn’t be happier that this topic is coming up because i’m really trying to learn and get better at handling these situations because they’re not goin’ anywhere anytime soon!


    1. My daughter is only one but I do find myself thinking about this issue a lot. One the one hand, I understand your approach and how it is not fun if a child is always upset. BUT on the other, if we keep helping out, isn’t the child also learning that “Mommy will solve my problem for me?” or “Mommy will get it back for me?”.

      I struggle with this a lot because I’m slightly confrontational in character and have a hard time letting go. I find myself muttering “don’t interfere” a lot to myself on the playground when another child snatches a toy from my daughter. I want her to figure out how to deal with it herself. It’s just so tough to sit back and not do something! More often she snatches it back or shouts at the child, but it’s her battle not mine.

      1. Kay, sounds good! Trust those marvelous instincts you have to allow your daughter to try to solve her age-appropriate struggles.

    2. Sara, first I’d like to compliment you on your thoughtfulness, sensitivity and restraint. I think that what you are doing (and what Alice suggests in our conversation) are just right for a child over two. Each situation and each child is unique. If a pattern develops that is uncomfortable and unproductive for the children, or the exchange gets too heated and upsetting, they may need more assistance.

      The point is to give children as much room as possible to work things out for themselves and this is never a perfect science! Most of us (myself included) have the instinct to jump in way too early. After all my years doing this, that instinct doesn’t go away.

      In fact, yesterday I felt like breaking up a struggle between two toddlers tugging at a bucket, both of them upset. It was at the end of a 90 minute class on a hot day and I imagine they were exhausted, which is usually the case when these exchanges get intense or go “bad”. I offered an identical bucket to the child who had “lost” the struggle, but she had no interest in it whatsoever. So, the girls eventually both calmed down, sat with their parents and that was that.

      Since we don’t want children to identify as aggressors or victims, it’s best to give them every opportunity to overcome these situations with only our minimal assistance. But in your son’s case, I would try to be there when a child approaches and support your son to tell the child “I’m using this” or “no”, while remaining as neutral as possible. “This boy seems to want the bucket. You can tell him NO if you are still using it”. Talk both children through the exchange and then if you still believe that your son needs you to help protect his use of the toy, go ahead and say, “He’s using this. I won’t let you take it. You can use it when he’s done.”

      1. hi janet,
        thanks so much for the reply…

        i wanted to share what happened the day after you posted this article:

        friday morning we went to a small play group with *fairly* like-minded families and dylan was very concerned about having a toy snatched from him repeatedly like what had happened the previous time we were there. when it happened, it really upset him so i did step in and help him navigate the situation and help “stick up” for him because he was scared and upset because this little girl was quite persistent and aggressive. so i felt it was appropriate for me to gently step in and help diffuse the situation which was only going to escalate.

        so friday morning, as we were getting ready to go to the play group, he expressed concern that the little girl was going to take his toy. so we talked about it again – and i reminded him that if someone is taking something from him that it’s okay for him to say, “please don’t take that from me” and/or “i’m not done using that”.

        and towards the end of the group, he was holding a toy and a different little girl came up to him and started to take it out of his hand and he quickly looked to me, and i said from my seat, “remember what you can say” and then turned to the little girl and said, “please don’t take that from me!”.

        i didn’t have to do anything else in that moment. the little girl’s mom saw/heard what was going on and she stepped in to offer something else to her child. i have a feeling that if she hadn’t done so, the little girl would have kept at my son and his toy but i was happy not to interfere with his process and let him experience that situation on his own.

        i feel like the security of having me there made him feel confident to say his peace. and since i won’t always be by his side, my hope is that as he experiences these situations, that he gains more confidence until he’s at a point where he doesn’t need any external security. he’ll have it from within.

        it’s all a balance – for me anyways! i don’t think never-interfereing would work for me/us but i don’t think always-interfering is appropriate either… as much as i would love a blanket solution (wouldn’t that be perfect?!) it really is very situational. and your thoughts, advice and comments are so, so, so helpful – i can’t tell you how much i appreciate it.

    3. Hi Sara,

      It seems to me you are doing exactly what is needed to help your son learn the negotiation skills that will make future relationships successful for him. Your gentle guidance, your sportscasting, your following through–think of the messages you are giving your son: He can count on you; he has choices that are respected; feelings are okay and understood. It is always difficult in social situations and especially so with others who approach these interactions from the opposite end of the spectrum. When you look at these as opportunities to grow instead of problems to fix, what thoughts come up for you? Think about what you’d like Dylan to learn when another child is busily grabbing and demanding and yelling…Think about what these opportunities offer up. When something is ripped from his hands, it is unfolding ‘naturally’–it is a real experience that will happen throughout the years. Clarify for yourself what you’d most like to grow in him at these times–fairness? Empathy? Patience? Understanding? And then think how best you can nudge him along the direction you’d like. Your role modeling, sportscasting, and ‘walking alongside’ him is powerful. What a positive, healthy relationship you are developing with your son.

      1. Sara, just want to say that I LOVE your story!!! You are doing a wonderful job.

        Alice, I’m so thankful for your comments!

  2. I totally agree with you, Janet. When it’s 2 kids of similar ages playing together, I try to intervene as little as possible. Now, I am wondering what I should do about my 24-month-old taking toys from my 4 month old. Should I just let him take everything away from the baby?

    1. I have more responses for you all…and am looking forward to sharing them tomorrow. Thanks so much for your questions and your patience!

    2. Hi Leah,

      I wonder how your 4 month old responds when your son takes things away? No matter the response, it is a beautiful opportunity to talk it through–to describe what you see. What worked for me (I had an infant and 3 yr old) was sitting on the floor near both children, and sportscasting–describing what my 3 year old was doing, describing what response my infant had. 4 month olds are typically engrossed in all the action and are soaking it all up. They are unaware of ‘losing’ something, not having a turn, etc. I would use my floor time to bring something to my infant and engage directly with her…then when my 3 year old wanted to take that, too, I could say, “When mommy is done showing it to Becky, you can have the next turn.” Often my eldest would move on to something else, and no matter what she was doing, when Becky and I were ‘done’, I’d let Emily know. I also would encourage Emily to ‘trade’ with Becky–“Oh! You would like a turn with the rattle. What do you suppose Becky could hold while you play with the rattle?” Choice and control are key for two year olds, and what a gentle way to provide both!

      1. Hi Alice,

        Thanks for your reply! When the 2-year-old takes a toy from the 4-month-old, the baby does not care whatsoever. But I don’t want the older one to think he can always take things from the younger one, so I do the same as you, I say “Owen had that toy first, when he is done you can have a turn” and as soon as the baby is done, I let Henry know and he usually doesn’t care any more by then. Good idea to encourage the older one to “trade” with the younger one! I will try that.

        1. Leah, I appreciate Alice’s advice and totally agree. I’d also add that you might want to consider establishing a gated-in area for the baby, so that when he becomes mobile he’s protected. Then Henry can have his “older” child toys in a safe place and his brother won’t be able to get into them. Henry can choose to play in Owen’s space when he feels like it.

          Also, keep in mind that struggles between the boys will probably happen more when you are watching, than when you are not. Sibling struggles are usually for the parent’s “benefit”, especially if you let them wind you up. So, when you do intervene, keeping that matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone is really important…but it will be challenging sometimes.

          Siblings Without Rivalry is an awesome book, if you get the chance to read it!

          1. And I agree with all Janet says, as well. Giving Henry the message his things are safe from Owen as Owen becomes mobile is important–I love the idea of a safe place for baby, as well as a safe place for Henry’s things. What we focus on grows, so think about where you are putting your attention–is it to the taking of toys, or to the moments sharing and playing alongside occurs? Children seek attention in the easiest way possible. And we tend to give it to the negative more often…

            1. thanks for the advice, great ideas! I have that book siblings without rivalry, and I agree that it is a must read!

  3. What a great discussion and a reminder to that adult part of our selves that often pops up when interacting with children. Your post brought to a head many things I am working with internally with how to manage similar behaviors in my classroom currently. The boys in my class interact very similarly as the children in your video, yet when things are taken away there are a few who feel very strongly about wanting to keep it and at various points throughout my day I find myself “sportscasting” in a calm, quiet voice between two children who are crying and pulling on a toy. In my head, my adult self, I want to say: “S had it first, so he’s using it.” But my teacher self overrules and says “S had the wagon. He’s holding on tightly. He wants to use it. T loves it too! It’s a beautiful wagon. Look at the wheels. T is holding tightly. S is holding tightly. You both want to use it.” Etc… These moments in the end are more stressful to me I have come to realize, because even though the children are loud, even crying with frustration, eventually someone lets go or they find a way to use it together. This week I have even taken to limiting my sportscasting to see what happens if I am just nearby, ready to intervene for safety’s sake.
    Another great example of this is in my blog for this week as the children enjoy a new activity outside.
    After reading your post it makes me realize the children in my group who put up the most fuss are younger siblings. It also makes me wonder if forced sharing is modeled at home or with other peer groups.
    Thank you so much for helping me think more about this and come to a few realizations!

    1. Briana, thank you for sharing these great observations and realizations. Sounds like you have wonderful instincts and a great “eye”.

  4. I agree that this is not such a simple clear cut issue when a lot of children have been raised by parents who fail to see the subtlety of the finer points (“hair splitting”) that you describe.

    With my 22mth old, she already uses the word “mine” quite vehemently. And I often wonder whether she’s heard it from her much older siblings (11 and 13yo – who unfortunately weren’t raised by me having such awareness back when they were toddlers). At the same time, she has had to learn boundaries over not being able to interfere with their activities and more delicate possessions.

    It’s a very fine line where I need to respect the older children’s rights to have some space and time to enjoy their possessions and the naturally curious “the whole world is mine to explore” toddler.

    And I agree with the comments above, how does one negotiate settings outside one’s own circle of like-minded friends and babies?

    1. Hi Simone,

      “Mine” is exactly what your 22 month old should be saying. When you see this as her reaching a new stage of independence–of understanding she is a separate individual and spreading her wings a bit more, what thoughts come up for you? This is a time to celebrate–she really is growing! It is our job to nurture this new found independence–via increased choices and just what you mentioned–learning what her space is, learning what another’s space is. What worked for me was being fully tuned in, able to gently let a child know when possessions are for eyes only, and helped redirect as needed. Give your older kids the opportunity to figure out what their wishes are–how much they want your little one to touch and play with their things-or which things are okay to use…and help them feel supported in communicating this to the toddler, for toddlers need to hear things over and over again. Frustrating for young teens!

    2. Hi Simone! A couple of thoughts… Keep in mind that the word ‘mine’ is a popular toddler power word (like NO). I see it as a positive! It doesn’t necessarily indicate an understanding of ownership or mean “don’t take this away”. It can also mean “I like it” or “I want it”. Personally, I think it’s great that she asserts herself with her much older siblings. And they are right to protect their activities and delicate possessions. As I suggested above, check out the book Siblings Without Rivalry, but this sounds to me like a situation your older children can mostly handle independent of your interventions. The older siblings are far more likely to want to let their little sister use something, or play with her when you stay out of the way and let it be their idea.

      In regard to negotiating with not like-minded others…here’s my reply to a similiar question from the “These Toddlers Are NOT Sharing” post.

      I hear this question from parents in my classes all the time…and it’s a tough one. Until some of these ideas become mainstream (and notice I’m saying “when”, not “if”) the approach you are taking is the unusual one. And, honestly, if other children are used to parents being much more “hands on”, it’s much harder for them to function in these situations. I remember being frustrated when my boy (who was/is so incredibly social) would be rebuffed by other children when he made even the most appropriate, charming (to me, anyway!) play overtures. But these children had only had real experience interacting with adults — parents and caregivers — so it made perfect sense. If they had ever attempted to interact with a peer the adults were all over them making sure they shared and whatnot. That doesn’t build social confidence. This is why I encourage like-minded playgroups!

      So, the best advice I have is to adapt as best you can so as not to ruffle feathers, but keep your child’s understanding of the situation as your priority. Acknowledge everything that happens. “You wanted that, but i want you to give it back to the boy. Can you do it yourself or do you need me to help?”

      Acknowledge privately to your child afterwards when you have to behave differently from what he or she is used to.

      The respect you show your child will make an impression on others. Remember also, that as the children get a little older and become more “project-oriented” with toys and materials, they need to be stopped before disrupting another’s activity. This usually begins closer to age two, but can happen earlier. Hope this helps…

  5. My question is the same as Leah’s and Sara’s – what to do with two kids of different ages. My 3 year old often takes things from my 15 month old, and she screams in protest, and sometimes tries to bite him. It seems like she is frustrated to constantly have anything of interest taken from her hands. Alternately, when he is working on a project that involves concentration and time, and she is too young to play constructively (read: she walks on it, tears the pieces apart, etc) then I like to give him some space to play on his own. I usually say that if it is something he is not ready to share, he can play with it in his room, or up on the kitchen table.
    Any suggestions would be most helpful!

    1. Hi Jess,

      Taking the time to be right there and describing what you see is important. Let your son know his actions make his sister mad; find out if she is wanting something else to play with, or if she really needs to finish her turn with the original toy. Help them both use their words, show them how they can trade…and stay with the one who needs to wait for the other to finish, reading or playing with them (preventing potential biting!). When you take the big feelings all in stride and affirm them, you may find your self relaxing into the process this is. I encourage you to see each encounter as an opportunity for both your kids to grow and learn, rather than a situation to hurry up and solve. In regards to your son working on a project–what worked for us was doing it up on a table, or me being totally available to redirect my younger one and engage her in choices appropriate for her. Your son needs to be reassured his space is respected–it isn’t easy having a younger sibling!

  6. ‘The child is interested in the interaction with another, more than they are interested in a particular object.’

    i can’t help but think the above quote is the most important focus in this discussion.
    remembering that we are relational people, created in the image of a relational God who’s word makes it clear that the only ‘right’ we are granted is the right to become His child when we believe on His name. teaching our children to care for each other more than their own interests needs to start at the earliest possible age. helping our children understand and find their true identity in Jesus Christ is greatly assisted by keeping a proper perspective from the start. no one really needs to be taught to look out for themselves. self is our natural(default) position. the act of caring for others is a learned art, greatly assisted by the security of family and a godly example. children can be taught to receive joy from seeing other children blessed–even if the playing field is uneven. the benefit of this to their emotional health is hard to overestimate. just some of my observations.

    deanna chapman
    mother of six

  7. This is a great discussion. I completely agree that with babies and younger toddlers who do not yet understand concepts of sharing or ownership that non-intervention on the part of the adults is best, letting them learn to interact with one another. But my concern with older toddlers (my son just turned 2) is that if you leave them to solve things on their own, especially with children of parents with very different parenting styles, the “solutions” that they come up with are not good ones: screaming, pushing, grabbing. To me, these are not acceptable responses. If my child is doing any of these things, I do interfere and explain that these behaviors are not acceptable and offer alternatives.

    I really love what Deanna said about teaching children to care for each other more than things. This is really the way that I try to handle these situations, by helping the children to become aware of how their actions affect others. Obviously, I can’t “make” them care about each other. But if my son takes a toy away from another child, who then starts crying, I can say, “Oh, that made him sad when you took the toy away.” And more than likely my son will give the toy back, because he wants his friend to be happy.

    1. Thanks, Shereen. I agree that pushing (along with hitting, kicking or biting) are unacceptable solutions. Children need our help and protection when they have the urge to do those things, and that’s why we must be observant and nearby to intervene. Screaming and grabbing are not fun to witness, but I have seen many situations in which those things happen and the children were still able to resolve the issue. In fact, they usually turn right around and continue playing happily together.

      The idea is to give children as much room as possible to safely find solutions. These children eventually learn what does and doesn’t work when playing with others. They learn that “joining” means not taking and that the trade-off of having a friend to play with is well worth sharing your toys. But these are things children need to learn on their own, with our support.

      I love the idea of teaching children to care for others more than things, too. Of course that is one of our goals. But I don’t believe that kind of learning can be forced, rushed or “shamed” into children. Children adopt these values when we model them and through experiences with peers, like the one you describe.

  8. Thank you for this discussion. We get questions about sharing all the time and love to have additional resources like this to help parents think it through.

  9. Thank you so much for “splitting hairs” over this topic! You make an excellent point about age that I think many people don’t see: babies and young toddlers are quite different from 3 year-olds! I also agree that “ownership” takes awhile to develop and can’t be instilled by adults taking or giving objects.

    I’m also curious about the original comment in this thread from Jeni. I’ve been using your strategies with my son (now almost 2), and we DO NOT have problems with “sharing” EXCEPT when other parents seem to create them. It’s true, if the other child and his/her parents don’t use the this (RIE) philosophy, it looks pretty weird. I never know what to say to the other parent, although the kids seem to get it when I sportscast. This post will help me better describe what I’m doing and why in general, although I still don’t know what to do in the moment (e.g. at the park).

  10. Oh my, I’m having one of those “If only I’d read this two years ago” moments…
    My journey with my first daughter has been rife with stress over this issue. While I did do many classic interventions, I really had no idea that there was an alternative, or that it was okay to not intervene. When my daughter was 22 months we were visiting a slightly younger child. While the girls played my daughter grabbed a toy from her. Her friend didn’t seem to notice and I didn’t intervene. (Honestly, though, had the other girl protested, I likely would have gotten in the way, simply not knowing what else to do). Later, my friend (the toddler’s mother) told me she couldn’t handle having me be so lax around the children, that our styles were too different, that I was permissive, etc. I felt a little in shock–it was around the time when I was first consciously developing my boundaries as a parent, understanding (slowly but surely) the need for my leadership, etc. I see now how insecure I was, and how this mild rebuke was actually traumatic for me. And ultimately for all of us, as I set off from there determined to not be an overly permissive mother. The next year and a half were intensely stressful in social settings and playgroups, with constant intervention. My daughter frequently bit other children, not necessarily over toy conflicts, but just…because. I came to see it as a reaction to her feeling of overwhelm in group settings (she did much better one on one with children), but now wonder to what extent all of my intervening and judgement towards her shaped that behavior. I have so many questions and insights all at once–for now though I’ll just say thank you.

  11. Cindie Cook says:

    I have an opinion on sharing with strangers in a public place. I think a lot of times a parent is more concerned with looking like a bad parent to the other adults than they are about teaching sharing. I feel this way because the parent acts embarrassed, for one, but also because they don’t stop, look and listen to what is actually going down here. Instead they just begin to lecture their too young to get it child about “sharing”, which wouldn’t make sense anyway, because the other child isn’t even close by now!

    What just happened is (in the cases I am referring to) a young toddler specifically brought a toy to the pool for themselves to play with. The child is happily splashing around with their toy in the baby pool when out of nowhere another child comes up to them, grabs their toy and goes to the other end of the pool with it to play with it alone.
    Your child quite naturally begins to cry.

    This is where I totally disagree with what I am witnessing: You start to lecture your child about sharing! (and again, I am referring to a child too young to actually share anyway…still at side by side play if even that and more notably, sharing with WHO? That other child is long gone to the other end of the pool and is having a great time with your child’s toy.)

    Generally the other parent says nothing or may lamely and without meaning it tell their child to “give the toy back, honey”, but you immediately insist that their child KEEP playing with your child’s toy, because your child needs to learn to share!

    When your child continues child is going to share! to cry, you take them out of the pool (a time out!). The other child is obliviously playing with the “stolen” toy alone at the other end of the pool and no one is addressing the fact that they snatched a strangers possession away and that they are NOT sharing! I have seen this happen many, many times. It just stuns me, absolutely stuns me!

    OK,think about this scenario. You are laying out by the pool, a stranger walks over, grabs your purse or lunch or phone and goes back to the other side of the pool without a word and starts using your things, eating your lunch, making calls and never even looks your way. Would you say something to them? Go get your things back? Be absolutely shocked and appalled?

    So then instead of getting your things back, you start crying because you are old enough to KNOW you have to SHARE your things!

    Next, an authority comes up to YOU and tells you that because your won’t share and you are causing a scene, you have to leave the pool. You need to learn to behave!

    Same thing. Exact Same Thing.

    Simplest solution…don’t take a toy if you can’t tell the difference between sharing and letting your child be taken advantage of. Just don’t take one.

    Best solution: Encourage the other child to come back with the toy and play with your child. If they ignore you or worse and if the other parent acts totally oblivious or doesn’t step in and get your child’s toy back then get up, go to the other child and say, “If you like, you may come down and play with my little girl and her toy together.” Then gently remove the toy from the stranger toddler’s grip, hold your head up high, walk back to your child and give her HER toy!

    It is my opinion that in MANY of these cases, the parent is more embarassed or concerned of what the other, unknown parent will think of THEM and their parenting skills more than an attempt to teach their toddler to share, which at the age I’m thinking of is impossible andyway! (I’m referring to baby pool ages here.)

    If you are taking your child to the pool or park and they don’t have a friend to play with or to accompany them, they want to take a toy to have something to play with. You allow them to bring their own toy. Your child is happily splashing around alone with their toy when out of nowhere another child comes up, snatches the toy and goes to the other end of the baby pool to play with the toy themselves…alone.

    How is that considered sharing? Your child begins to cry, of course! Someone they never met came up and TOOK AWAY their toy. Then the mother of the victim begins to lecture her child about “sharing”, but this is not sharing. It’s stealing. Yet the other child’s parent is in on this, too. They may say weakly and unconvincingly, “Give her her toy back” and then you say, “No! She needs to learn to share her toy.” and goes back to telling her child, “You have to share with other children. Let him play with the toy.” and if the child continues to cry, suddenly THEY (the victim!) is put in a time out!

    For goodness sake. If the child brings a toy and it is stolen, either tell the other child to come back and play together or go get your child’s stolen toy back. That other child is not sharing. Your child is not sharing. Sometimes both are too young to understand the concept of sharing, sometimes the taker is older and knows exactly what went down. Somehow both sets of parents don’t see this at all!

    My solution? If you can’t handle being embarrassed by your baby not sharing, don’t take a toy to the pool. If you don’t have a friend for your child or this new child is not at all interested in playing with your child, but only interested in taking the toy away for themselves, why aren’t you standing up for your child’s rights?

    If the other parent came over and picked up your purse, took it over to their chair and starting using your things without ever saying a word and just grabbing your purse, would you consider yourself in the wrong? If you don’t, you are being a total hypocrite. You are not sharing! Why would you not let this other parent play with your purse and eat your lunch and brush their hair with your brush at the other end of the pool? Wouldn’t you be modeling bad behavior if you don’t just let this stranger HAVE your purse and personal items as long as they want without having to ask you or to share you lunch with you? Think about it. Same thing. Time out! That is how I feel and it is very hard on my tongue (biting it) when I see this happening to some poor little child who has been the target of this behavior and suffered the consequence the OTHER child deserves to learn!

    1. I think you just struck a nerve with me… I am that parent (the one that is too embarrassed to get the toy back). I need to learn to stand up for my kid and to not be embarrassed about my “different” parenting style. (We have no friends who parent similarly to attachment or RIE or any of it…)

  12. Very interesting. Me and my BFF (who have children the same age) have been trying to figure out how to deal with our toddlers. My daughter is a few months younger than all of her little friends that we play with. In total there are 5 other children just over 2.5 that we hang around with. My dd is constantly having toys taken from her. I have believed in letting kids deal with most things by themselves and up until very recently she was not bothered by this. In the last few weeks she has been getting very upset. I have watched as she finds a new toy then the other child comes and takes it and repeat. After a while of this she gets very upset. Would you suggest riding it out? My friend and I have been getting down with them and all of us playing together to stop the conflict, it is horrible watching your child be upset. It is true it is worse when she is tired but that is not always the case. All opinions welcome. Thanks!

  13. Sorry I didn’t see your response to Sara. It seems very similar ans u feel the same ad she does. I can’t recall one time that DD has taken a toy from a child. I’m glad to see I’m not the only mom that is dealing with this issue. I love all our little friends and I want to do what is in their best interest as well. I’m very close to all of them and their mothers.

  14. Janet,

    I have a question about interacting with other parents that don’t share your views. My husband and I use RIE methods and really enjoy seeing our son grow and play because of them. He loves to share (weird, I know), knows how to play on his own and with others, and is quite good at problem solving… much so the other kids now bring him problems to fix (I strongly believe this started with your blog). He is very friendly and compassionate towards everyone except his cousin.

    Around her, he completely changes and to be honest, I don’t blame him. He really doesn’t enjoy sharing with her at all, refuses invitations to play, and loudly states his boundaries towards her (such as, ‘Don’t push me!’) in a very angry and emotional manner. He is 3 now and she is 5. His entire life, she has been a toy snatcher, she taunts, and micro manages everything he does seemingly to thwart any effort or success. This is not exclusive to my son. She ‘plays’ this way and is known as the mean kid on the playground that other kids won’t play with.

    I feel sorry for her and know its not her fault. My brother’s daughter is always forced into sharing, or doing anything really. Playtime is definitely not her own, and she is monitored so closely that she can’t make decisions on her own. My brother also constantly intervenes when anyone ‘wrongs’ her, and even encourages her to be physically aggressive or praises her when she does something that is very clearly socially unacceptable, like taunting. He even will tell other children that they are wrong for not sharing with his daughter in the hopes of guilting them into it, and when that doesn’t work, he’ll turn to his daughter and loudly tell her how the other child is misbehaving and should be punished.

    Obviously, I would just not interact with this kind of person. The exception here is that he is family and we see our parents often, bringing our children with us, of course. Many visits have ended in his daughter in tears because my son won’t play or refuses to take her offer of peace after being mistreated.

    My main method of action in these instances is to ‘sportscast’ until the tears start because after that my brother gets extremely angry, loudly shouting how my son needs to be reprimanded. Explaining to my brother that we parent in a certain way that differs from his style has not worked. Neither has politely asking him not to step in and tell our son something. Neither has explaining what is really happening or encouraging him to take a step back and watch for a minute without judging.

    My main question is, what do I do in these types of situations? They are likely to happen again since my brother will never change. Can I prevent something from happening? Its impossible to just avoid them altogether and my son learns valuable lessons from these interactions, as difficult as they are. He’s learned that it is wrong to tease and taunt, wrong to push, hit, spit, and that he doesn’t have to share just because its demanded by him from another adult. (He actually said ‘No!’ so boldly to my brother that he stunned him into silence! I had to snicker at that. :D). But I’m not sure if that is good enough to justify exposing him to bullying (my brother…..and eventually my poor niece because she’ll have no choice with a role model like him).

    I am open to advice. Thanks for listening and reading in advance. I really want to learn how to handle, if its even my role, this situation.

  15. Both points of view are “correct” in that there is no one tried and true blue print on determining if, when and how to intercede. Who can really tell when ownership takes place? For example, if a child in our center develops a special attachment to a play object, in some regard, it becomes “hers.” She often will not let it go without a struggle. And, yes, an adult may need to step in- especially if the other child is stronger physically or in temperament. We might say, “This doll is special to Harris, she doesn’t want to let it go. I can’t let you take it from her. You can play with this doll….”

    Yet that is rare. Usually, the children are not attached to the play objects and they do pass things back and forth. Letting go. Holding on. Struggling. Often times, it resolves without adult intervention and they should be afforded the time and opportunity to play it out.

  16. I have question (cos this splitting hairs thing is irking me as an ego thing rather than a results thing)
    If the general principles are applied and so similar as you say, then what out come as adults occurs if you do it your way vs Alices way?( i mean if you can recommend her approach i find it hard to see that it would cause issues) … Does one become “better” than the other, do they feel less respected when it comes down to something as finite or small(?) In detail if the general approach is respectful…
    I ask this because ive never forced my 15 month old to share shes just naturally a VERY sharing child, shares her food, drink, toys and cuddles with other kids around her, but occasionally someone will snatch something shes deep in play with and i have to intervene because she gets a look on her face like ill scratch your eyes out, i dont think or feel thats appropriate behaviour response to feeling frustrated ( its ok to feel frustrated and mad/ angry its not ok to be violent, feeling emotions what ever they are is ok but how we accept them being acted upon is a very key lesson to learn about emotional regulation, and whats acceptable in society, id be mortified if someone sportscasted bob took than from you joe and now hes playing with it, joes dropped a right hook on joe cos he was frustrated,)
    Obviously different parenting styles techniques are for getting the “best” child they can, but for many years a hard line parenting style has produces capable loved intelligent children who turn into respectable adults, obviously its not an approach for all people, we know Authoritarian approaches arent the most effective ( but not to forget are still effective, they show low nurturance not none, but set very clear boundries and consequences), authoritative styles being most effective, i just wonder if respectful is venturing more towards permissive when you split that hair, if the child isnt upset why would you intervene anyway theyre just playing, its when they are upset by it that it seems would be a valuable lesson to teach that sometimes even when we dont do it intentionally our actions could upset another person ( doesnt matter if theyre tired or sick, theyre upset) should that feeling upset not be acknowledged respectfully and not be explained away ( thats just diminishing there feelings, that doesnt seem respectful)…
    Perhaps someone could clarify if im completely wrong or missing the point

    1. Interesting questions, Laura!

      1. “Does one become “better” than the other, do they feel less respected when it comes down to something as finite or small(?) In detail if the general approach is respectful…”

      When parents allow young children to handle age-appropriate conflicts as RIE suggests (which might mean allowing them to feel frustration, disappointment, even anger), the “better” wouldn’t really be about respect… What this is really about is developing social skills, self-confidence and resilience. The more we intervene in these conflicts (with infants and toddlers, especially), the less competent and more dependent children feel. “My mom thinks I need help handling this…so I obviously could not handle it myself,” is the message children receive. Also, “When I get upset with my peers, people rush in to make it better, so being upset must be a big problem…something to try to avoid.” At RIE we allow, even encourage, feelings to be expressed, which helps to “normalize” them for children. But interestingly, the children in our classes rarely get upset in these situations, unless they are also tired, hungry or otherwise stressed. I attribute this to the manner in which we respond… Our responses don’t convey to infants that a child taking a toy from another is a big problem, yet this is a lesson most parents outside of RIE will teach children early on. Instead, we calmly sportscast, acknowledge and keep the children safe, but allow these age-appropriate conflicts, which (again) serves to “normalizes” them.

      2. Regarding what’s acceptable in society, this is something parents teach primarily through modeling and trusting children to develop empathy, generosity, remorse, gratitude, etc., etc., in their time. When we try to rush or force these lessons on infants and toddlers, we often end up teaching things we don’t mean to teach…things like, impatience, roughness, valuing material things, and a general lack of empathy (because we are misunderstanding the child’s stage of development). The challenge is to TRUST the innate goodness in our child, protect against any physical harm, and MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Surprisingly often, parents don’t recognize that their child’s “snatching” or lack of gentleness is a reflection of the parent’s own actions during these kinds of conflicts (like snatching the toy away from the “offender”, etc.). Toddlers are far from ready to learn that “when you steal, you go to jail”, etc., and yet parents will attempt to teach them this through their anger, punishments, time-out, etc.

  17. It wasn’t until I took developmental psych that I learned the concept of sharing is not possible to them. But whenever a group of parents and their kids are playing together everyone hovers over their kid ready to say “share” or “take turns” because god forbid are kids are seen like little savages and thus making us look bad a parents. But what I struggle with is that my 3 year old will let anyone take a toy from him and often looks afraid to interact with other children. In the eyes of society my son is seen as weak or a pushover. Sometimes if he encounters another child an he feels “trapped” (like going up the ladder to the slide and another child start to go up behind him) he freaks out. My parents insist I need to teach him to be more assertive or that needs more social interaction. What can I do to help him?

  18. I am very curious to know how this works with my 23 month old and kids of various ages. We work in a gym child care center and kids of all ages come in. He will want toys in the hands of kids of all ages. Should I handle it differently with another 2 year old vs a 6 year old etc. I am really struggling with this as he seems to want to take toys semi often and I am finding the other kids to not be used to an adult allowing the struggles or taking. They often get upset. I really could use advice.

    I also do not know when too much is too much. Example being when another 2 year old came and wanted to join in playing with the cars he had in a line. He kept telling the child no and picking each one up he tried to take. How do you recommend handling that in detail please? Should that be stopped? It is overwhelming!

    Also, he has a few toys of preference and he will be in the middle of playing with, say his cars, then he hears the blender or worm going off and he screams no and rushes off to grab the toy from the child’s hands. With the worm last time I had told him it looks like x is using the worm right now. I know you really love that toy and seem to be upset she is playing with it. Would you like a turn after she is done? Nods yes. Ok, I know it can be hard to wait, would you like me to help you find a toy to play with while you do? Nods yes. Do you want to play with the cars (which he was already playing with). Nods yes. He forgot and when done the 5 year old brought it to him saying she was done. He did not even want to play with it. But then got upset when another girl began playing with it. I said she was giving you your turn but you did not want it. I know it is hard but you will have to wait again. Is this too much intervention? I am all new to this and I also have been dealing with hitting (getting away from throwing which used to be common) in this situations so I am just scared to let natural sharing play out in fear of what other parents will think about him trying to hit because there is a lot of judgment from others… I am overwhelmed and need clarification on how I should be handling the sharing of different ages, what is too much, the hitting and just overall wording… anxious to hear back!

    Thanks in advance.

  19. I’m finding the idea of not intervening when children grab toys off each other very interesting. In my circle of friends, most parents will intervene if their child grabs, and model sharing by saying your friend wasn’t finished with that, give it back or it’s not nice to grab toys off other babies. In fact, the rare parents who don’t intervene (and generally they have the kids who constantly grab off other children) are often avoided, or receive less invites to play dates! In the videos, the girl who has the toy taken is not upset – what do you do if the child who’s having toys taken does get upset? My little girl never grabs off other kids – she will approach them and give toys, but very often, other kids take toys off her and she gets very upset. What should I do?!

  20. dr. gordon Neufeld explained bonding process of children. year 1 is bonding via body contact, the baby feels a part of mums body. year 2 bonds via ownership. leaving the unity of mums body means transcending to teddy objects and toys. in that moment they define their very being over an object or animal they re enact. so, I beg to differ kids not understanding ownership but being too dependent on it in that stage.

  21. Stephanie says:

    Hi Janet, Thank you for this fantastic article. I know it was written awhile back – but is very relevant to what we are going through right now, and hoping you can offer advice on how to handle. I don’t want to be the type of parent who is always intervening and I do believe in letting kids work things out and learn on their own. I am struggling because my 15 month old son is constantly taking toys from all the kids in the playground. He is very physical and stronger and taller than most of the other kids. When we play in the sandbox or on the splashpad in the playgrounds he takes the other kids buckets and shovels and other toys. He is fast and strong and either the kids are his age and aren’t strong enough to hold on, or are older and know how to say hey that’s mine but they don’t fight to get it back. I don’t want to constantly be intervening, but on the other hand he is taking all of their toys! And I feel like I have the mean kid on the playground and the parents are upset with me. So I try to stop him, and he throws a fit. Or I try to barter toys and give the kid his toy if he takes their toy. How would you suggest I handle this? He throws a tantrum when I tell him not to do that, or I take the toy and give it to other child (he is not yet talking and doesn’t have words yet). I don’t want to be scared to teach him boundaries even if it means many many tantrums in the playground – but I am hoping for advice on the best way to do that. He is our first child and we don’t have ways to practice in our house. The only place to practice is somewhere that is extremely public like the playground. My husband stays at home with him right now, and he is struggling with this as well. Any help or advice you have would be greatly appreciated! Also – are there books you would recommend reading on this subject of setting appropriate boundaries?

  22. Catherine says:

    Thank you! This thread is so helpful! I am a Montessori guide for younger toddlers.

  23. This is a great topic and very relevant to me right now. I’m split between giving the words to children to help them negotiate and letting them figure it out. How do you go about this when multiple people who care for your child do it differently? For example, nannies, etc…

  24. Dear Jannet,
    I love reading all your articles! Thank you so much for sharing them with us.
    I would like to ask for your opinion – my daughter (now turning 2) does not mind letting other kids take the toy if she knows them well and she has learned that her toy will stay safe and she will get it back at some point. But if she meets someone on the playground whom she doesnt know, she doesnt want to give any toy so easily. It is as if she really has the feeling that the toy is her property, so the contact with the other child is less important to her than her toy. Which I kind of understand, because I also dont crave to play with every other person on this planet, unless I really like them. What is your opinion on this?
    Do I missunderstand something from your teaching on this important topic?

  25. Hey Janet
    This post actually caused me to shake because I am always struggling with myself what to do when this situation comes up. I think completely the same as you but when I take my son to playground and he gets close to other toddlers or kids to play with their toys I think to myself maybe their parents don’t like sb get close to their child. You know! it’s a strange feeling. I just want to prevent that thing that they reject my son or ask their kids to leave that place because they don’t want my son to get close! I know! it’s stupid! So, I take him away from other kids because I don’t want my baby to get rejection! Now that I am writing I think it might be problem-related to MY self-esteem, not the others. Having fear of rejection is something in ME not in my son. I probably have to ask their parents if they are ok if our kids play together. I find myself thinking about the right thing I should do to avoid hurting my son. Another reason might be that I am worried their kids beat my son or make him scared.

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