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It’s Mine! Why Even Generous Toddlers Become Possessive

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It’s Mine! Why Even Generous Toddlers Become Possessive

It is, most likely, inevitable: One day your 2-year-old cutie is quietly sharing her favorite stuffed animal with her 4-year-old brother, when out of nowhere you hear her shout, “Let go!” in the most assertive tone ever.

And with that, it is clear your (formerly) amiable little girl will not surrender her toy. Not now. Not ever. Not even for a second. Taking turns is not an option.

What gives? Not your sweetie—at least not for the time being.

In fact, your youngest—the one you used to count on to share her toys, her food, and even her bedtime storytime generously, is now staking a claim on everything. Want to wash her blankie? Better do it while she’s asleep because she is not going to give it up, not if she can help it.

What’s changed?

Some time after her first birthday, your baby started to understand that she is, in fact, her own person.

Around age 2, it dawned on her that she is able to control her possessions. This possessiveness is normal, and it signals her growing independence.

But there’s more at play here. At this point, your toddler doesn’t recall that the possessions she gives you always come back to her safely. In her mind, if something leaves her hands—even temporarily—it’s probably gone forever.

The good news is that once your toddler becomes possessive, she’s on her way to learning about give-and-take, and sharing will get easier.

How to Teach Your Toddler to Share

Little ones must understand three distinct ideas before they are able to give and share on a regular basis. They must:

  • Create attachments and feelings of ownership.
  • Understand that things exist even when they can’t see them.
  • Develop empathy and an awareness of the feelings of others.

Children don't develop empathy until around age 6, so the phrase “It’s mine” may dominate your toddler’s frame of mind for some time. In the meantime, try these tips to minimize conflict and help your child develop a more generous spirit.

1. Plan play dates wisely.

Before a pint-size guest visits, remove certain nonnegotiable personal belongings from view so a good time doesn’t dissolve into a tug-of-war fiasco.

2. Set a timer.

Keep activities short. When all else fails, use a buzzer to signal when it’s time to swap toys or puzzles.

3. Encourage kids to practice taking turns and sharing.

If a tiff escalates, explain to all that they can play with a coveted toy when the other child is finished. If that fails, try using a timer.

4. Show how you share.

Let your toddler see you borrow a rake from a neighbor; then return it together later. Lend a book to your sister, and tell your little one that you trust your sister to bring it back to you.

5. Demonstrate emotional generosity.

Engage in activities and share experiences that boost happiness. A happy and emotionally secure child is more likely to share with others. Teach your toddler to value shared experiences over toys and other possessions.

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