For a while now, Maya has been saying “Mine!” — usually after Rocco has stolen her blanket/toy/cup/cheese stick/dinner …
But at school and during play dates, she’s been relatively even-tempered; letting her friends take her toys and just moving on to something else without an issue. This made me happy because it meant she wasn’t being aggressive or pitching fits.
Well, apparently things are changing in Toddlerville.
Recently at school she threw her first tantrum after a little friend had cut in front of her on the slide, blocking her ability to go down. Her teachers told me about it — they said it was pretty funny because they’d never seen her do this at school. (I assured them we’ve certainly seen our share of fits at home!).
If the mini-tantrum at school was a prelude, then this past weekend was the opening act of the selfish toddler/territorial phase that I’m pretty sure no parents welcome … but is a natural — and age-appropriate — part of growing up.
Cue the groans.
On Sunday we had our new neighbors over for a BBQ. They have an adorable 7-year old son and a precious little girl only two months older than Maya. While we grown-ups chatted, the kids played beautifully — making us all happy. Their son was wonderful with the girls — playing with them, drawing with chalk, making an obstacle course for them to run through …
All was peachy until their daughter saw the swing on our play set and asked to go on the swing.
At first, I didn’t realize this was about to cause World War III; it honestly never occurred to me that Maya might freak out over such a small act: letting her friend swing on her swing. It’s not like she was using it at the moment or anything …
I brought our little neighbor over and put her in the swing and began pushing. All of a sudden Maya came running over, pulling at my leg, yelling, “Mama, Mama! Mine! Mine!” and arching her back in discontent.
Now I know you can’t rationalize with a toddler, but nonetheless, I scooped Maya into my arms and told her she’d be next, in just a minute. While her screams and cries escalated and she threw out my back from writhing and wriggling, our pint-sized neighbor looked positively freaked. So we switched the kids out and as soon as she was in her swing, Maya was all smiles.
Clearly, I was being played. By a 19-month old.
We left the swing and gave the girls some water. Happy, normal play resumed. Bubbles, chalk, coloring.
Then they got out Maya’s prized buggy from the garage. Sure enough, every time it was our sweet neighbor’s turn for a ride, Maya screamed bloody murder and yelled “Mine!” And every time Maya got in the buggy, the tears went dry and out came the double-dimpled, cat-ate-the-mouse grin. We repeated this scenario several times but this time I was firm and made sure each girl had her turn and didn’t change activities just to appease her. Yep, I gave Maya some tough love: I held her, but I let her cry/kick/freak out.
Here’s the thing. She might only be 19 months old, and yes, she’d had a shorter-than-usual nap that day and was over-tired … but it’s no excuse. She still needs to learn to share and there’s no time like the present — to not just lead by example, but really encourage sharing. After all, we’ve been teaching her manners and it’s already paid off (she’s saying [and signing] “please” and “thank you” appropriately) so I really don’t think it’s too early to actively teach her to share. As a daycare kid, a toddler who — hopefully — will someday have a sibling, and a citizen in general, she needs to be a good sharer. It will take time, but sharing is a non-negotiable part of life.
After dinner, the girls seemed to be sharing/parallel-playing quietly on the deck with a bunch of Maya’s dolls — babbling, feeding them with spoons and cups, hugging them … it was adorable and I got some great pics.
Then Maya’s friend found Minnie at the bottom of the pile — her favorite toy. My stomach clenched. Since it was so late, we parents did some quick thinking and narrowly escaped Act 3 of WW III by asking our little neighbor to give Minnie to Maya and giving her a different doll to play with. Fortunately, both girls were agreeable … but it could have gotten ugly!
[My BFF has a great solution for this for future play dates, which I’m curious to try: since Minnie is Maya’s super-special toy, we can keep Minnie in Maya’s room — safe and sound. Then before a friend comes over, we could wrap Minnie in a special blanket, give her a kiss goodbye (she loves to kiss people/stuffed toys bye bye), and close the door (something else she loves to do). Out of sight, out of mind. And then all bets are off for her other toys; she has to share those, but Minnie can remain her special toy].
Since this was our first time really hanging out with our new friends, though I know I didn’t need to, I apologized for how Maya — usually Miss Good-Natured, Calm, Easy — had been behaving. Of course, as the parents to a 7-year old and a toddler, I didn’t need to say a word. They totally got it and said not to worry AT ALL; they knew Maya was just being a toddler. And, they said, had we been at their house, it would have been the opposite scenario in that it would have been their daughter crying.
It’s hard, as a parent, to see your child do things that upset you. But this is only the beginning, and I need to take it in stride. I can’t protect her from everything and I can’t swoop in and fix every situation for her. And truthfully, I don’t want to; I believe kids need guidance, but they also need to learn hard lessons on their own. (I love this NYTimes.com article, Raising Successful Children).
We might just need to give her some tough love when it comes to sharing. Because she can’t always get what she wants … That isn’t how the world works and it’s better she learns that now.
How about you? What tips do you have about teaching your toddler to share?