Easy Tips for what to do and avoid when children are fighting over their toys
When one child sees another playing with a toy, instantly that toy gets “super-powers” and becomes extra special and desirable. Now, they both want it!
From an adult perspective this can be hard to understand because our children have so many other toys, and even sometimes the same toy in different colors. It’s also challenging because it may not be clear who "had it first", or your children may be developmentally too young to clearly talk about their needs.
"Avoid prying the toy from your child's hand"
To start, there is one thing to try to avoid, which is prying the toy from your child's hand (I have been guilty of this before). Grabbing is exactly the thing you don’t want your child to learn do, and by doing this you are accidentally modeling that it is an effective method. Oops!
3 Simple Tips
To Stop Children's Fights Over Toys:
1. Teach the Language of Sharing:
Consider teaching the skill of “sharing language” when your child is young. For toddlers, parents can model saying the words until the child is old enough to say it on their own.
" Sharing Language empowers the upset child to express themselves instead of grabbing"
A helpful phrase to consider is “When you’re done, can I have that?” This super simple language can dramatically shift the perspective and sounds very different from “you have to share”, because it empowers the upset child to express themselves instead of grabbing. In this strategy the child who is playing with the toy first can still have fun. Both kids will eventually learn they can have toys for as long as they want, but they occasionally have to wait for the other to finish their turn. Since waiting is hard, you can help your child wait by temporarily engaging them with something else (later I’ll talk about how to help your child with waiting).
Note: This strategy does not prevent tears, but it’s a great long-term solution with real practical applications. As an adult you can use this same phrase, for example at the gym –“Excuse me, when you are done with the treadmill, can I use it?” You might be surprised that most adults and kids will say “sure” when you ask in this way.
"they get to keep playing and they all get a toy"
Consider using the "trade-up" method which is as simple as, “Would you like to trade for this?” and hold out another item. With toddlers, parents can help their child express the desire to trade while the child practices handing over the new toy.
This easy strategy can work for a few reasons. For children some of the hardest parts of sharing is their playing has to stop and they get nothing because their toy is taken away. By using this strategy the kids all get to keep playing and all get a toy. Additionally, from a psychological perspective, whenever you make an active choice to “choose” something else, you instantly become more okay with it. There is often no crying in this strategy!
3. Take-Turns Timer:
"A timer can teach problem solving and waiting skills"
The concept of waiting and time is an advanced cognitive concept. Especially with toddlers, waiting can feel like “eternity” or like it will "never" happen. A timer can be really helpful to teach problem solving and waiting skills.
One way to do this is with sand timers, so the child can visually see the sand transferring and when the wait is almost up. Consider investing in a multi-pack of sand timers with different time lengths from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, which can be used with most ages/scenarios and can fit in your pocket! (can be purchased from Amazon)
When your child is fighting over toys try to avoid prying the toy away, and instead try one of these 3 tips to help decrease fighting: teaching the "language of sharing", implementing a “trade-up”, or using a “take-turns timer”.
For more simple parenting tips, check out the Myers Family Therapy parenting blog!
Laura Myers, LMFT #89833
Myers Family Therapy