Toddlers Fighting During Play Dates

Dear Nanci,

My toddler embarrasses me on play dates by grabbing toys and hitting the other children. I know that at her age she's probably not able to share, but what can I do to get her to be more kind and generous? I always feel like the other parents expect me to do something but I'm not sure what.

Dear Sylvie,

You;re absolutely right, Sylvie, she can't share yet but she can learn to take turns and that's what her behavior is asking you to teach her. She's not being "bad", she just wants that toy and doesn't know a socially acceptable way to get it.

So when you're on a play date and an incident occurs, make sure you're aware of it as soon as possible so you can quickly step in and teach your daughter what she needs to know. Pay attention to the children's play and only step in if they can't work a problem out themselves without resorting to being physical or screaming. When you have to step in try saying this,

"There's a problem here. It looks like you both want to play with this toy. I'm going to hold it while we talk about it. Penny, it looks like you want a turn with this but I saw that Mary was using it. You can ask for a turn and wait for it. Or you can play with something else. Mary, I'm going to let you use the toy and when you're done with it, can you give Penny a turn? Penny, I see you want the toy but I'm not going to let you hurt Mary to get it. Instead you can ask for a turn like this."

Demonstrate by holding out your hand and saying "turn please"

Sometimes they'll refuse the negotiation and you'll have to set a timer for a few minutes to help them take turns. When that happens, they almost always give the other child a turn before you even set the timer.

Why does this work?

When a child sees a toy being used by another, it's completely different than seeing the same toy lying on the floor. When the toy is in action, it suddenly becomes exciting. That's why they grab suddenly at something and people think it's just because the other on has it.

This works because you're telling your child what to do as well as what not to do. And you're demonstrating the words and the action, even when your toddler might not completely understand. This is teaching.

Your'e child wants the toy, not because they're greedy but because they want to learn from it. All behaviors, misbehavior included, stem from a desire to learn and accomplish things. That's a good place to start thinking about any discipline.

Nanci J Bradley is a child and family educator with 42 years experience and an MA in human development as well as a BA in education. She helps parents manage relationship and weight issues. Click on the"before" photo below if you want to learn how she lost 100lbs. while raising her own child and running a full-time child care business.