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Toddler Intervention

"Kids not nice at the park. They grab my toys."

A few months ago, Laszlo was at the playground playing with his toy trucks. Another boy about his age swooped up, grabbed one of Laz’s toys from him and kept running.

The mom actually noticed (for once) and said to her kid, “Hey, that boy was playing with that. That’s his toy.”

The boy ignored his mom.

The mom came over to Laz, who was starting to cry, and said, “You can share, right? You have other toys.”

What. The. Fuck.

Taking toys from a kid is not “sharing.” Swiping another kid’s toy from him is unacceptable behavior. To add the positive spin of “sharing” is deranged. Yet, I see it happen all the time. Most parents who have kids who like to bully Laz deal with it in the way that works best for their kid. Which usually means apologizing,  justifying their kid’s behavior and then doing nothing about it.

Some of these parents believe that you’re supposed to “let the kids work it out.” This hands-off philosophy sounds great if you’re the parent of the kid who likes to grab toys from other kids. It also might work great for a couple of kids who are equally assertive. But Laszlo always loses the “kids work it out” game. It’s not a fair fight when Laz is the opponent. He rarely even tries to fight back and he usually ends up in tears. Of course these parents think the kids can work it out: Their kid always wins!

I know it’s a crazy, old fashioned idea, but I think two year olds need adult intervention sometimes. They’re just not old enough to work it out on their own. Besides, how exactly do you expect a couple of two year olds to “work it out”? Do you think this is going to end with handshakes and contracts drawn up? No. It’s going to end in tears. “Using your words” only goes so far with a two year olds. They don’t have the confidence or often the language or understanding to comprehend and communicate their feelings. They don’t say, “Hey, you’re not supposed to just grab that away from me! I was playing with that, and when I’m done, you can check it out if you’re still interested.”

I’ve been told that with some kids, the grabbing of a toy isn’t about wanting the toy. It’s about wanting interaction with another kid. It’s about testing reactions. Well, that’s all well and good for your kid, but my kid doesn’t like being the guinea pig in that clinical study. You want to test for a reaction? My kid is crying. Big surprise. Study over. I’m sure you’ll get accepted in the Journal of American Psychology. Now give my kid his toy back.

I get that your kid needs to explore and is curious about consequences. While pushing, grabbing, and hitting in a fight over a toy qualifies as “interaction”, that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Parents also defend their little toy-grabber by saying it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of. I wonder how the kid is going to magically stop doing it, when the parent isn’t doing anything about it. The problem will probably just worsen, since the parent isn’t putting an end to it. I know it’s hard to believe for parents who want their kids to “explore,” but kids need and actually want some boundaries and discipline.

We can’t blame kids for testing each other or wanting to play with other kids’ toys. We can’t make them share. But we can set a good example. Your kid took something from another kid. The other kid is upset about it. If your kid is not old enough or empathetic enough to realize that it needs to be given back because there’s a sad kid who wasn’t done playing with it, then it’s your responsibility to step in. By doing nothing (Woops… I mean, “letting the kids work it out”), you’re giving the message to both kids that it’s okay to walk up to other kids and take stuff away from them, that being aggressive and taking things from other kids is acceptable behavior.

The mom at the playground did nothing about the fact that Laz was crying and her son grabbed Laz’s toy away. I tried to get Laszlo to “use his words.” I told him, “I know you’re sad that he took your toy away. Why don’t you go tell him you want it back?” However, not only was Laszlo too upset to talk, but the kid was on the other side of the playground with Laz’s toy.

Laszlo looked in the distance towards the other boy and whispered through his tears, “Give it back. I don’t like this.” But of course, the kid didn’t hear him. He was too far away. Besides, I could barely hear Laszlo, he was whispering so quietly. I eventually managed to successfully distract Laz, but I didn’t feel good about it. To hell with this, I thought. The next time somebody snatches something from my kids hands, I’m going to ask that kid to give it back to Laszlo. And if he refuses, I will pry it from his dirty little stealing hands.

It’s not that complicated. If your kid takes something away from another kid, and the other kid is upset about it, tell your kid to give it back! If your kid refuses to give it back, take it out of your kids hands and give it back. How does that not make sense? It’s pretty basic. It’s not “over-parenting” or being a “helicopter mom.” What right does one kid have to snatch something from someone else?

Adults who do that go to jail.

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