Two toddlers are playing together with a set of blocks. At first, they are both working with their own pieces. Then one child reaches over and grabs one block away from the other. The child who had the blog screams and begins to cry. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice negotiating skills.
While both children are having strong emotional reactions to the toy grabbing that just happened, the best gift we can give to the children is to remain calm. By providing a calm space, their emotions are the forefront. Watch for a moment to see what reaction the children might have. In some cases, the toy grabbing works. Sometimes, this is the most difficult for our adult rationalization of fairness. For toddlers this is less the case, and often each party simply continues with what they were doing. If there is a strong feeling of wanting to keep a toy, calmly hold it between the two children.
"You both really wanted the toy! First you grabbed it, then they held tightly." When you focus on what is happening with a calm, even tone, the children's attention is on the facts.
"When they are touching it they are using it." For toddlers the idea of physical touch meaning possession is a simple, concrete idea.
"Can I have it?" Invite a child to hold their hand out, palm up, and ask this question. The important part is to wait for an answer. Sometimes, a child needs an prompt that they can say Yes or No. By inviting an exchange between children, they learn that what the feel and say or want or need matters. This idea can continue through many topics and will evolve as their communication skills grow. We are introducing the basic concepts of listening, waiting for an answer and responding
"I'm using it." When a child wants to keep a toy they are using, they can say this phrase. It tells the other child that it is not available. They can try to find a way to get the toy in a safe way.
Toddlers will find every way that they can to practice these concepts. They are searching to find ways to orient to the world around them, and they are curious if things are true and the same in various situations. This means that the more consistent we follow this model, the more normalcy they will experience. When a toddler experiences order, they feel safe, respected and trusted, which allows for them to feel free to be creative, explore and imagine.