Imagine the scene. You’re at a playgroup and your child has grabbed a toy off another child. You ask them to give it back, and they run away across the room. You chase them and they’ve got the toy stuck tight in their fist.
You believe in peaceful parenting, and it doesn’t feel right to forcefully rip the toy out of your child’s hand, but the other parent is staring at you waiting for you to do something. What can you do?
When a child takes a toy from another, they are usually ‘off-track.’ They may not be able to verbally process our words when we tell them to give the toy back, because their limbic system is busy at work dealing with feelings, so the rational, reasoning part of the brain that processes language can’t work well.
The desperate need for a certain toy probably relates to deeper feelings than simply wanting to play with that toy. Perhaps your child recently had a new sibling, and is processing big emotions about the change, or they have just started daycare. Their behaviour could even relate to earlier hurts; for instance if their birth or start in life was particularly challenging, .
We do need to set the limit using physically connection, but not with physical force. We can move in close, make eye contact with our child, and put our hand on the toy and their hand. We can set the limit, and tell them in a gentle way, that they need to give the toy back.
What often happens is that your may child begin to cry. If we try to avoid their upset we may notice that their off-track behaviour keeps returning, perhaps for the rest of the playgroup! That’s a sign that the upset feelings are still there under the surface.
Instead of trying to distract with new toys or stop the crying, it can really help simply to listen. We can just be there and empathise without rushing around trying to fix things. This gives our child what they really need, connection with us and a chance to heal and overcome the challenges they have experienced.
After we have listened, they will most likely be able to understand our reasoning that the other child did have the toy first. And once that deeper upset is gone, they probably won’t be even that bothered about not having the toy. They’ll feel lighter and more joyful without those heavy feelings clouding their thinking. Sharing will come more easily to them.
Our children actually love to share and get on with each other. So listening can help them return to their natural, co-operative selves. This is what it means to parent peacefully, that we don’t need to use force or control. Listening and connection are all we need.
Need more help with sharing? Here’s some fun playlistening games to encourage sharing.
Here’s Hand in Hand parenting’s free mini e-book which describes in detail how we can set limits and listen to feelings.
And if sibling rivalry (or friend rivalry!) is a challenge in your house you might want to check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course Taming Sibling Rivalry