March 6, 2013 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Toddler possessiveness is so commonplace I feel a little ridiculous for needing help with it. But I have no idea how to act as a parent on the playground, when my almost-2-year-old refuses to let anyone play with what she is playing.

At the playground we go to, most people know each other from sight and it's the culture that as long as you look around and attempt to ask the kids are allowed to play with each others' bobby cars, doll strollers, chalks and balls. The other mothers also bring a lot of snacks and encourage the kids to share. I really like this.

For instance, my girl did not want to play with her ball. But she did not want anyone else to play with it either. She wanted me to hold her ball so that nobody else could get at it. Attempts to share ("first you kick the ball and then the girl kicks it!") were unacceptable.

She also does the usual things of trying to push other kids away from the steering wheel etc.

I am not sure how much I ought to intervene and how to do it. My neighbour, who has two bright, well adjusted and friendly children says that as long as the children are more or less the same age she pretty much keeps out of it unless someone cries or gets hurt. She says it's not good to keep interfering with the kids' social interactions. But she also says she gets the evil eye from a lot of other moms.

I myself was a loner as a kid and others tended to take my stuff while I stayed put and cried. I have a few hang ups about that and don't want to pass them on to my child. I want to have her back but I also don't want to encourage her to be antisocial.

Do you have any concrete suggestions about what to say and how to deal with the WAAAAAAAh?
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Almost 2? There is very little you can do. Don't bring toys to the playground until she is out of this phase, and try to distract her when she gets possessive of stuff. If people give you the evil eye, they are probably forgetting what their own kids were like at that age. As she gets older, keep pushing the concept of taking turns, but for now, try to get her away from whatever it is that's upsetting her to share.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:10 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (Just to clarify, she also gets that way about playground inventory like swings and see saws)
posted by Omnomnom at 1:12 PM on March 6, 2013

I think the obvious response is that you can't bring your stuff to the playground unless you are willing to share it. If she makes a scene about not sharing other kids' stuff or the playground equipment, and it is clear she is being unreasonable, then you pick her up and say it's time to go play with something else on the other side of the playground, or it's time to go home.
posted by steinwald at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2013 [10 favorites]

Dealing with the other parents: Look on it as a chance to get to know the other parents. Go over and sit with them, and when Li'l Nom starts doing that, say, "Geez, I'm trying so hard to get her to share more -- what worked with your kids?" And then nod and say "Interesting..." and "Uh huh..." and "Go on..." and take or leave their advice. But if you make it look like you're trying, people will be a lot more understanding of toddler behavior.

Dealing with the toddler: There's not much you can do. I'm sure someone will have agita at the way I say this, but: Toddlers aren't people. Not yet, at least. Yes, there are some who are perfect and obedient and reasonable and play the piano and blah blah blah, but the vast majority are just a big ol' walking id that's learned how to talk a little. Go with what chickenmagazine and steinwald say -- if she can't share her toys, especially when she's not using them, then no toys at the playground; if she demands sovereignty over the swings, then no swings anymore (though don't bother saying "no swings next time," because she likely can't process future consequences yet). Distract her (one of my kids responded best to distraction-by-engagement -- even if he didn't understand what I was telling him, it provided enough of a "space" that he forgot what he'd been mad about).
posted by Etrigan at 1:17 PM on March 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

2 is on the early edge of moving out of Parallel Play and into Interactive Play, she may not be developmentally ready to interact with the other children.

There's an incident that my friend remembers. Her little girl was playing with something on the playground and another kid wanted it, so my friend says, "Let her play with it for awhile." Her daughter, all of about 3 at the time shot her daggers, and then it occured to her, why should my kid have to give it up, if she's still playing? So you're right to have your daughter's back.

While sharing is nice, sometimes we just want what we want. If your child is on the swings and having a good time, she should stay there until she's ready to stop, or you're ready to go home.

Soon enough she'll be more social and more interactive, it's early yet.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:18 PM on March 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Agree with everyone that there isn't very much you can do. Having said that, try this: take more than one toy and ask her to pick the toy that she will not want to share vs. all the other toys which will be shared. Emphasize the hers-only toy so she feels in control. Preferably, have this conversation before you join the playground so she remembers. It sort-of worked for my 2-year old.
posted by rada at 1:19 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

We don't bring things he won't share. I also agree with your neighbor about not interfering unless things get overly physical or someone's crying. Part of encouraging play with other kids is letting them learn how to behave in social situations and learn how to sort these things out between them.
posted by chiababe at 1:20 PM on March 6, 2013

My son will bring me little twigs to hoard from other kids, even if we have brought no toys of our own. But interestingly, he only does this when the other kids are strangers. See if it helps to find out the kids' names, and to befriend them. I support my son in not wanting to share with strangers, by the way. It's his natural caution and that's cool.

I do intervene when he physically pushes someone. First offense was a scolding, second offense we went right home. He tests it every few months or so, but doesn't rely on it as a strategy anymore. I've also given him a polite not-sharing script, "Oh, no thank you. I want to play by myself right now." As they get older, it seems good to be able to stand up for themselves verbally.
posted by xo at 1:22 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Equipment is there for everyone to enjoy. If there are kids waiting for a swing I do a count down. Something like "ok, in 10 pushes it is time to let someone else have a turn" Make the end of swinging fun but also start talking about how much fun you'll have going down the slides next. Go back to the swings after others have a turn. Show enthusiasm and start the dialogue of sharing. Don't make her give up toys right away but have a fair turn.

Setting this example for her is also how you deal with the parents and other kids. They see you guiding/teaching your kidlet how to share and remember how they had to also.
posted by Swisstine at 1:32 PM on March 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

I think disengaging from this sharing concept is the way to go. She's most likely just about to go into a phase where she is more verbal and understandable. She may soon be able to start playing with children as opposed to just near them.

For my kid at that age, if she didnt want to share a ball, I wouldn't make her. With the exception of the slide, I don't intervene for my kid to "give someone else a turn." It's not worth it and it turns everything into a power struggle.

Ignore any "evil eyes." For one, they may actually be thinking something else entirely.
posted by amanda at 1:34 PM on March 6, 2013

I say "OK, sweetie, you can play with this for 2 more minutes, and then it will be the other person's turn!" then I count down 1 minute, 30 seconds, and count down the final 5 seconds. There's still screaming when we have to give it up, but it doesn't last as long.
posted by KathrynT at 1:40 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Take turns" is better than "sharing" at that age, which I see you've addressed some. So that's good that you understand that.

And people may disagree with me on this, but I also don't make my kids share everything. I think it's unreasonable to expect that people share everything in general. So my son doesn't have to share his bear, for example. And he doesn't have to necessarily share a particular train, but he has to pick out a train his sister can play with and give it to her, etc.

But at her age, there's not much more you can do than encourage, "You go, then Sally goes," and just keeping to that. And I really wouldn't make her share her ball if she doesn't want to, but if she puts it down and is on the slide and then gets upset if another kid is playing with it, you can say, "Of course this is your ball! And we'll bring your ball home when it's time to go. But you were using the slide, so Sally is taking a turn. When Sally is done, Sally will give you your ball."

And physical altercations require intervention, which is mostly separation and disengagement at 2.
posted by zizzle at 1:40 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Someone pointed out to me a while ago that as adults we are absolutley not asked to share in the same way as kids. It would be shocking and upsetting if you were reading a book, or using a computer or something like that and another adult came up and just snatched it away while another adult admonished you to share it. We get to make choices with our own personal belongings (within reason) and allowing your kids to do the same (within reason) is ok too. Our guidelines are pretty similar to what's been said here.

1. It's ok not to share your stuff if you feel really strongly about it but there are drawbacks to that too (you don't get to play with other kids' cool stuff either, you don't get to bring your cool stuff to lord over other kids in public places).

2. Related to the first rule: other kids absolutely get to pick what and when they share with you too, no exceptions.

3. Community property, like playground equipment, is a different story. It's there for everyone to use, so setting clear guidelines and giving warnings when you'll move on (like the countdowns above).

4. Sharing stuff is pretty great, though, because you can come up with entirely more fun games that you can't do on your own. Sometimes the grown-ups get involved and get really silly too because sharing is just that much fun.

I'm also a big proponent of parents not getting overly involved in these totally normal squabbles beyond stopping aggressive behavior, reminding of the rules and maybe helping with some distractions to move on.
posted by goggie at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2013 [35 favorites]

I think you realize that this is more about how you act as a parent, by how you worded this, right? Other parents want to the reassurance that you're doing your best, and will gather that based on your performance, not your child's. Hopefully (HOPEFULLY)
the other parents will realize that everyone has this issue, and that there are better days and worse days for these behaviours and some kids just plain aren't going to buy into this sharing stuff so easily.

First, your kid is just too little to get it, so these are teaching moments, but if it's happening too often and you're both miserable, you don't have to put yourselves through this. If you want to actually have fun, go when there are fewer people around. Parallel play doesn't become associative play until between 2 and 3 years old. My poor tall kid - everyone thought she was a terribly-behaved 4 year old when she was only just over 2 -- so I'd state her age and the milestone "Oh, at (this age) I only have to hold my breath for (X amount of time) before she's close to making the (X milestone)." "Or, I know at 2 she's not ready for (X) but we're working on it!"

If you're going there for your own ability to socialize, you might want to go when your kid is napping in the stroller, and then only play for a bit when she wakes up. And pick your timing - is it her best time to be at the park? Is it really fun for her, or is it a series of frustrations?

Our playgrounds often have "Park Toys" - parents bring over old toys or occasionally re-stock the selection in the sand pit with toys labelled as such (with a sharpie.) We just didn't bring our own toys to the park, or we'd contribute a few "park toys" so I could say "These are for everybody, take turns with them." If she did bring her own toy, it was okay not to share it and when she was talking, she learned to say "I'm sorry, that's too special to me - can you use a park toy?" (I am the person who told people the pens at my desk were mine by labelling them with skulls and crossbones and telling my co-workers that bad luck would befall those who removed them from my area.) (I still have MY pens that are MINE and nobody else can use in our house.) (And she is and was highly verbal.) (And I am a mom who often got the stink eye.)

About sharing: Sharing doesn't mean someone has to give something over right away. If she's playing with a park toy, she can eventually say "No thank you, but you can have it when I'm done." If you're there to intervene, you can convey that to the person who wants her toy, using the language you want her to use (or what's common at the park.) Otherwise, I'd say let them work it out - if there's hitting, you can say "no hitting" and remove her for a minute -- but I'd say let her work it out a bit. Working through it on her own is just as educational too, if it comes to a good end - and also educational is getting hit right back or shoved by another kid. You might want to respond, for effect - just move a little slower.

I have to say this too - if you watch carefully, there's a bit of a playground social construct in that that some kids wrestle for position and win, and often others let them, and this follows through into the later years (as I see at 9.) Kids don't always need to be the boss, they just need to know who's the boss (in their playgroup - not counting adults here.) If your daughter is a strong-willed, awesome force of go-go-go gettingness, and doesn't have our adult woman need-to-be-polite hang-ups about not being judged by other moms, don't put that on her yet. Bright, well adjusted and friendly is lovely because it's easy - but sparky and definite and forceful kids are beautiful and interesting in their own way, and that should be valued. Asking or requiring her to always concede (share) and take turns (or let others go first) is polite, but not the natural order for kids. Teach her what you want her to do, whether or not it is what the other kids (or parents) are doing.

(or, on preview, what goggie just set succinctly while I was just typing a novel.)
posted by peagood at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I also didn't make my kids share when they were that age. But what I did do was praise the heck out of any kid who was waiting ("You're waiting so patiently for your turn!") and give my kids suggestions about other things to do that would then lead to them leaving the coveted item ("Hey look, there are swings over there!").
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:26 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Really not much you can do. I don't intervene with my 2yr old unless someone is crying.

Also, I simply don't allow him to bring toys to the playground since there are enough of them to share/fight over without adding to it. This definitely helps avoid "I don't want it, but it's mine and you can't have it."
posted by sonika at 3:00 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm kinda surprised/perplexed at the non-interveners. My child is two. At TWO I will absolutely intervene, if my child is aggressively trying to take another child's toy, or if another child is trying to aggressively take MY kid's toy. If your kid is trying to aggressively take my kid's toy, and you are sitting there playing on your iphone and ignoring it, I will absolutely give you dirty looks, and if it persists, I might tell you straight up to remove your kid. I really don't think a two-year-old is old enough to be learning to "defend" his or her rights and property without guidance. My perspective is, that's what I'm there for!!

So if a child is trying to rudely take my child's toy, and my child is upset, I will calmly step in and say no, otherchild, you can not take X's toy. Then I will say to my child (X), hey, she would like to play with this, is that ok? Are you done? If she's still playing with it, depending on circumstance and what the item is, I will either tell the other kid sorry, or tell my kid "ok, you can play with it for 10 minutes by yourself and then we are going to share with her." Or whatever.

If she's done playing with it, but just doesn't want otherchild to play with it, it would depend. Is it something "special" to her? I'd probably defend her. Is it just a random toy that she has no particular attachment to except she doesn't want anyone else to have it? I'd probably say "if you are not going to play with it right now, then I am going to let this girl play with it." Ignore tantrum, or comfort without giving the object back, depending on what generally works for your child.

If my child is trying to take ANOTHER child's toy (that is being actively played with, held, etc) I would go, remove my child, and say "that girl is playing with the ball. You don't take the ball when she is playing with it." Or, depending on language skills, "you need to ASK her if you can play with the ball." If the other girl says no, then "sorry, you can not take her ball. Let's go play on the swings instead!" Deflect, distract, teach, but don't allow her to become a little bully, in other words.

Seriously, I think all of this is learning opportunity, and that is EXACTLY the type of thing the child is supposed to start learning around this age. Letting them duke it out on their own will basically just mean that the assertive/aggressive kid gets what they want and the passive kid gets trampled. Two is not the time to "let him learn to stick up for himself." Jesus.
posted by celtalitha at 4:48 PM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's scary to bring your own toy to a park and then have strangers try to play with it. You don't know if you'll get it back or when. It's scary to have your things taken away by people you love and trust and then given to strangers. The word "sharing" is used, but you don't really know what that means.

Like googie excellently points out, adults aren't expected to suddenly share their personal items the way kids are. While I think teaching sharing is very important, I also think teaching giving and respect for boundaries is more useful in the long term, and naturally leads to sharing once they're old enough to understand.

(NB: this is an uncommon opinion in my area, too, and I can be fish-eyed by other mothers.)

Mine are three and are pretty good at sharing with each other and playing with others. But when younger my rules were:

Public Items: (Like the swing.) When another child expresses interest, give them a countdown. "Okay, that little girl wants a turn! So we're going to swing ten more times, and then let her on." "Okay, two more swings!" "Okay, time to get down! Do you want the slide or the grass now?" WAAAH's are ignored as an immediate reaction; continued WAAAH's mean it's time to ask if we should leave the park or calm down and play a new game.

Personal Items: (Like her ball). I did not expect my children to share these items, but highly praised them when they decided to. They were not allowed to just take other kid's toys, of course, and I did enforce sharing if the other child had put their toys into the public sphere form them to touch.

Special vs Personal Items: This is more useful for playgroups, but I also distinguish with them their specials vs their regular toys. As an adult, I'm happy to pass around my headphones, phone, and iPod to all. But gaaaah, no, my laptop is miiiiine. So before we go, they choose one special they do not have to share under any circumstances (comfort blanket, baby doll, ect) and one or two items they have to be able to share (ball, blocks, ect). In our experience that helps them help themselves regulate between "mine mine mine" and "playing with others is fun".
posted by blue_and_bronze at 4:56 PM on March 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

> I'm kinda surprised/perplexed at the non-interveners. My child is two. At TWO I will absolutely intervene, if my child is aggressively trying to take another child's toy, or if another child is trying to aggressively take MY kid's toy.

That's different from the situation I imagined. Yeah, if my kid took another kid's toy or shoved them off a piece of playground equipment, I would step in and make them give it back.

But if my kid is hogging the swing / sandbox shovel / stick / rock / etc, I'm not going to make my kid stop using it so yours can. And I'm not going to expect you to make your child stop playing with the really cool stick and give it to my child -- in fact I'd prefer that you didn't.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:14 PM on March 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

But if my kid is hogging the swing / sandbox shovel / stick / rock / etc, I'm not going to make my kid stop using it so yours can.

I differ here. I think if there's 3 swings and 16 children, each of whom would happily swing from the beginning until the end of time, at some point my kid has to get off and let the next kid in line get one. Swings are a hot commodity in my park, and I would definitely side-eye the parent who thought that his kid had exclusive domain on one of them just because they'd gotten there first.
posted by KathrynT at 5:45 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, sure, if there was a ine of 16 children staring at me all big-eyed I would use the "hey look at that neat thing over there, let's go check it out" technique I mentioned above. What I wouldn't do -- as far as I remember, my kids are school age now -- is force them to get off the swing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:23 PM on March 6, 2013

As far as sharing playground equipment, in elementary school there was a system for sharing swings. If a kid wanted to swing, and they were all occupied, you would "count" someone. You stood in front of the swing you wanted, and counted their swings. I think it was 30 or so, and then it was your turn, and any other kid could then "count" you, but I think that sort of thing is too advanced for toddlers. I'd do some reading about developmental stages to see what's more appropriate and cognitively accessible for kids this age. And I agree, your kid shouldn't be expected to share their own toys if they are actively using them. There should be a difference for toys they aren't using or interested in until someone else wants them. I think there is a learning opportunity there.
posted by catatethebird at 6:40 PM on March 6, 2013

Fighting this is like fighting millions of years of evolution. Possessiveness probably stems from the survival instinct to hoard. It's a universal thing with kids and yours will outgrow it. In the meantime, not a lot you can do except keep reminding your child about sharing so at least you are planting the seeds of the concept.
posted by Dansaman at 6:48 PM on March 6, 2013

If your kid is trying to aggressively take my kid's toy, and you are sitting there playing on your iphone and ignoring it, I will absolutely give you dirty looks, and if it persists, I might tell you straight up to remove your kid.

I think you misunderstand. I'm always paying attention to what's going on - I just stand in the background and let kids work or out unless there's a problem that they can't solve themselves. (Which, since they're two... happens a lot.)

Also, neither I or any of the other adults at my playground is neglecting our child for an iPhone, though the prevailing culture is definitely not to intervene unless necessary. A parent telling someone else what to do with their kid would absolutely not be welcomed. We clearly hang out at different playgrounds.

You're welcome to come to mine. The adults chat and the kids play and I've yet to see a dirty look.
posted by sonika at 8:17 PM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

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