Toddlers negotiate the use of toys in any number of ways. Many times they work things out themselves, finding a way for disagreements to become absorbed into the very nature of the play.
Not all instances are so readily resolved, especially when one child takes a toy away from another and that child shows strong feelings about it.
I don’t consider wanting a toy that another child is playing with selfish or inconsiderate, but rather natural when you consider what happens to a toy another child has.
When a child picks up a toy, it becomes:
Animated. A toy that a may have otherwise gone unnoticed is now moving.
Interesting. Someone may play with it in ways that haven’t occurred to the child before. Watching someone else play may spark an idea that feels urgent to implement.
Demonstrative of Possibilities. Watching someone play with a toy can bring its potential into reality.
This summer my daughters have started to play with one another. These moments are still brief, but they are new to their relationship and carry with them a whole new need to negotiate.
Unlike other turn-taking or shared use scenarios, this situation seems to escalate more than others. Older sister (3 years) is using a toy. Younger sister (2 years) takes toy (and usually runs away to avoid it being taken back). Older sister yelps that younger sister is not listening to her and chases younger sister (who is usually laughing at this hilarious game she thinks they are both playing).
Rather than taking the toy away from both children (teaching children to not take toys away by taking toys away) OR
asking them to use their words, I’ve been modeling the waiting hand.
The gesture of holding out my hand, palm facing up, and waiting for the toy to be returned has worked wonders in modeling a peaceful solution. This strategy for working together toward harmonious play has been becoming a part of my daughters’ repertoire.
There is something calming about this simplistic “less is more” strategy. I think that using this gesture allows me to maintain my composure and not be distracted by the need to find words. Best of all, 9 times out of 10, sister gives it back when she’s ready, without further incident.
This gesture is also empowering for young children who may not yet be able to speak, but are interested in using a toy that another child is playing with. The inclusion of this into the children’s play has helped them learn to trust each other just a little bit more, and given them one more tool to work with toward resolving their disagreements on their own.