Thursday, March 24, 2011

When Kids Grab Toys: Tips and Tricks

The most common word I hear from the 2-year-olds in my daycare is "Mine!". At this stage of their lives, this is a completely acceptable way to say, "I'm playing with this right now. Don't take it from me!" As mentioned in the "Time-outs for Toddlers" post, grabbing toys is the biggest offence in the daycare by far. And from the earliest days of running the daycare, I have had a 'no grabbing' policy. I know that there are other ways to handle this situation, one of them being to distract the toddler who just lost their toy, perhaps with another toy. I know also that the toddlers probably can't conceptualize why grabbing is wrong. Still, I am very stubborn when it comes to providing an environment of fairness when it comes to the daycare, even if they don't get the bigger picture yet. Some may argue that this is unrealistic, since the world often isn't fair. I figure they have plenty of time to learn about the big bad world. For now, I can do my part in teaching them to value fairness, and to respect their peers. This is not to say I have been that successful in minimizing the grabbing attempts; they come by it honestly, being 2-years-old and all. But they are more able to change their behaviour with verbal reminders now. (It is extremely rare for one of the tots to receive a time-out for not releasing their vice grip after a few warnings.) I have created the following list of techniques for dealing with this issue when managing a group of young children.

Ideas and Techniques
  • Always look for the intention behind the behaviour. If you're not sure, make a guess given the information you have. For example, if a child has just grabbed a toy from his peer, what could be his motive? Is it because he really wants to play with the toy? Is it because he wants to play with his peer and can't find a better way to show it? Is it purely to see the strong reaction he can get from his peer, or from the caregiver? Is it because he thinks the toy belongs to him? (Maybe it does, but he still has to learn to share!)
  • When possible, do the following techniques after the 1-2-3 warning outlined in the "Time-out for Toddlers" post.
  • If you think it's because the child really wants to play with the toy, promise him a chance "in 2 minutes".  Inform the group (in a loud and clear voice) that it will be Bobby's turn in 2 minutes. After about a minute, remind both kids that it will be Bobby's turn in one more minute. After about another minute, you can say something like, "Okay, it's Bobby's turn. Johnny, give the truck to Bobby now." (Nine times out of ten this technique works perfectly. Both children feel like you've respected their wants.) If Johnny is sad at having to give the toy to Bobby, repeat the technique, telling both that it will be Johnny's turn again in 2 minutes.
  • If you think it's because Bobby really wants to play with John suggest a way that they can play together. Perhaps Bobby can help John load his truck up. Perhaps Bobby can get a different truck (for example) and drive his truck behind John and his truck. Perhaps Bobby can just watch what John is doing. (I always try this last approach when one child tries to grab a book from another. If they don't touch, they can sit beside their peer and look at the pages with them.) Still, if a child truly wishes to play alone, I believe she should have the right to do so. The best thing to do in this case is to tell Bobby that John wants to play by himself right now, and show him another toy or peer (a fair distance away) that he can play with. He may not fall for the distraction, and show displeasure at this, but this is his only option at this point.
  • If you think the child is grabbing a toy to get a reaction from either his peer or yourself, simply follow the "1-2-3-time-out" approach outlined in the "Time-outs for Toddlers" post. Make sure your reaction and deliverance of the technique is low-key, so you don't reinforce the behaviour. At other times encourage other methods of interaction the toddler can use (e.g. "Hi John", high-five, getting different toys and playing with John).
  • Often, a child who attends the daycare will bring a toy from home. When this happens, there is an immediate swarming effect from the group, like a pack of hounds around a slab of meat. I think in this situation, it is best to let the child who brought the toy have the first turn. Then, follow the 2-minute turn approach outlined in point #3, for the whole group. 
  • Anytime you see a child choosing a different approach than grabbing (e.g. asking, watching), praise the behaviour. Make sure the whole group knows how proud you are that the child put in the effort to try a more positive and respectful behaviour, even though he really wanted the toy right away. 

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