Dear Dr. Renee,
My kids are constantly battling over who “had it first!” This happens with each other and also with their friends. I am always rushing in to negotiate and make things right. How do I get them to take turns without needing me to jump in?
It is a parental reflex to want to jump in and stop the fighting. I often talk with parents about putting the toy in time out if the children can not share. This is a good immediate solution, but it is only a temporary fix.
Your best steps are to teach your children some diplomany skills and let them practice. And based on your comments that your children are “constantly battling,” my guess is that like most families, your children will have lots of opportunities to practice.
Prior to the pandemic, we were pretty strict about electronics in our home. Our daughters had to ‘earn’ electronic time and playing the Wii was something they both looked forward to. However, they would fight over who got to be “Player 1” to have control of the game. This often evolved into “but I had it first!” fights.
When your children come running to you, start by making an objective observation. You want both children to feel seen and heard. “There’s only one Player 1 in this game and it looks like you both want to be Player 1. Can we figure this out together?”
If you are met with anger and yelling (which is a common response), then taking the Wii game away for a bit might be the best answer. Calmly suggest that you all “turn off the Wii while we talk” and then go to another room if possible. This frees up your children to problem solve.
Sometimes taking away a toy turns you into the bad guy.
Research has shown that simply taking away the ‘prized toy’ without helping your children work through the conflic undermines their negotiating and conflict resolution abilities. It also turns you into the bad guy.
While some parents hate it when their children turn against them, in this case, I actually appreciated it. It meant my kids had stopped fighting with each other and were on the same team again. I knew that this would pass and didn’t take it personally. It also helped speed along the negotiation and compromise that needed to happen.
Now, what if one of your children truly did have the toy first and the other child just wants a turn? Jumping in and taking away the toy is no fun for you or your child.
Help the first child decide to share on their own. Ask the first child when she thinks she will be finished playing and encourage her to share the toy when she is done. Then ask the second child what he wants to do, in a different room if possible, while he waits.
The second child might get wholly engaged in the new activity and not care about the first toy anymore. And more often than not, once a toy is no longer ‘prized,’ the first child will be done playing with it sooner than the anticipated time.
For more about sibling and friend rivalry check these out: