We have entered a stage in our house that I fear will be a long one: the stage of wishing for two of every single toy. Which, of course, isn't reasonable or practical but still every single time the girls are going toe to toe over some broken toy telephone that no one has played with in over year, I think "Where did we get that?", which inevitably leads to "Should we get another one?" and then, because I'm equal parts imaginative and desperate, "Can I pull another one out of my ass RIGHT NOW to stop the screaming?"

But even if I were able to conjure up another deeply precious broken toy telephone, I know the fighting wouldn't end there. Oh no. Then they're be some blow-up about whose broken toy telephone was MORE precious, the new old one or the old old one. And one of them would surely look slightly different and therefore be the better of the two and then we'd be right back where we started, with me going slightly insane from the whining.

E is two years old and, therefore, deeply in the MINE stage. Everything she sees is hers. Everything she wants is hers. And, especially, everything that her sister is currently holding is HERS.

We went through this MINE stage with Z, of course, but when she was two, she had the benefit of living in a house where every single toy WAS hers. As CG and I were not about to fight with her over the stuffed dog in her hands, there were precious few instances of her battling over toys.

E, on the other hand, entered a house where every single toy belonged to her big sister. We rarely bought toys for Z, yet we managed to acquire a stunning number of them simply through gifts and hand-me-downs and some universal plastic toy osmosis. We have a decently stocked playroom in the basement and the Useless-Toy Fairy has to visit regularly in the dead of night to take the lamer toys to never never land.

I do not want to buy more toys just so that E has the same number of toys as her older sister. I also am having a hard time asking Z to share all of these things that were specifically given to her. Because, of course, she remembers everything about her toys. She can't remember where she put her lunch bag or her shoes or her favorite head band but BOY HOWDY she can tell you that that long-ignored plastic bracelet that I want to throw away was from the goody bag of so-and-so's birthday party and she needs it to remember that day and she (suddenly) can't bear to be apart from it ever.

Z has helped clean out her toy bins before, which is always an excruciating process during which she claims to adore things she hasn't played with in literally YEARS. We've talked about how we need to make room for new toys and have space to find and enjoy the ones we have by getting rid of old ones, either by giving them to her sister or to "kids who don't have as many toys".

We've also started talking recently about how we, as a family, share most of the things in our house. We each may have a few things that belong just to us, that we don't share, like our toothbrushes, eating utensils, a few special stuffed animals/dolls. But the rest of our things really belong to the whole family. Even the toys.

There's something bigger I want to get through to Z, and I'm not sure if it's possible at this age. That these possessions only have the value that we place on them. That we can chose whether something is valuable to us or not. That letting something go doesn't have to mean letting go of the enjoyment you had with it.

And that the two year old will let you have the red straw if can convince her that the green one is the one you really want.


Swistle said...


Er, and also, we have a few guidelines. One is that for the first three days after a child is given a gift, he or she doesn't have to share it. After that (with tons of exceptions, which is why we go nuts), sharing is required---but that doesn't mean that, for example, the child has to give the toy up when he or she is already playing with it, just that when he or she is NOT playing with it, someone else may play with it. And this doesn't apply for things that can be used up, like coloring books or craft sets. And it doesn't apply for things that could easily be broken or misused by someone of a different age/temperament: for example, the 12-year-old does not have to share his MP3 payer with the 4-year-old (though he does have to let him listen a little bit to see what it's like, while the 12-year-old carefully holds the pieces to make sure there are no sudden moves). But in that case, those possessions must be stored safely: a child can't leave an MP3 player sitting unattended on the coffee table and then complain that someone else is touching it.

A certain VERY SMALL group of things need NEVER be shared. This is mostly Extremely Special things such as blankies and special stuffed animals. But a child may not say that, for example, three dozen stuffed animals are ALL in that child's Extremely Special group.

We also emphasize BENEFITS. Like, instead of "You must share" (or rather, in ADDITION to that, since I guess that's what I tend to ACTUALLY emphasize), we mention often how nice it is to have siblings so that each child has access not only to their own possessions but to their siblings'.

It's complicated, isn't it? We have a LOT of timers around the house for Taking Turns, and I often suspect that it is THE VERY FACT THAT TURNS MUST BE TAKEN that MAKES THEM WANT TO PLAY WITH THE ITEM. Like, a toy sits abandoned, no one interested in it at all---and then one day ONE child wants to play with it, so then they are ALL scrapping over it. Sigh.

Gina said...

Right there with you. Driving me most insane right now is that the 2.5 year old insists on calling everything "mine" which drives the almost five year old rule-follower completely crazy protesting, "But it is not his - we share our toys in this house!" I tell him to just ignore his little brother - that he and I both know that the toys are shared but he is indignant that his little brother dare to be so possessive. They sure do know how to push each others buttons.

Living in a small two bedroom house where the boys share a bedroom means that even if I let the boys keep separate toys there would be no space to do so. So everything but special stuffed animals and toys that are not age appropriate (no way I am letting the 2.5 year old run around with markers and glue sticks and 100 piece jigsaw puzzles) gets shared. Like Swistle we do let the gift recipient get more exclusive use of a toy in the first few days after it is received but after that it is first come, first served. We don't require a child to take turns with a toy they are using although we encourage them to do so. Mostly because I want them to develop the skills to work it out for themselves (i.e., don't bother me with it!) That said, as soon as that toy is set down it becomes fair game again. No walking away to work on something else and then coming back five minutes later and then saying "but I was using that!". I do encourage Thomas (my oldest) to work on projects or play with more intricate toys up on tables or in his (shared) room with the door shut if he doesn't want constant interruptions from his little brother. Thankfully, his little brother, Theo, doesn't mind this at all and usually is thrilled that Thomas is occupied - that means that he [Theo] gets undivided Mama attention. It will be interesting to see how adding a third child to the mix changes our dynamic.

shannon said...

Just last night I was throwing my hands up in the air asking the all-knowing child rearing gods: "so are we supposed to buy a whole OTHER train set now that both kids want to play?"

It's my five year old that won't share anything, because, in all fairness, he's the train building genius who needs every last piece (except the odd left over he's willing to let my two year old have) to build his "tripple decker skytrains" and it's been his pride and joy all these year so now what??? Is it fair to make him give up precious pieces? It certainly isn't fair not to let my daughter play trains too, since she too could be a train building genius, but LORDY I am sooooo tired of hearing about the #$%@! train! He won't even stay on the toilet in the middle of going to the bathroom yelling "SHE"S WRECKING MY TRAIN!" at every tiny sound of clanking from anywhere in the house... "No sweety, that's just me doing the dishes" but noooo, he has to go check in the middle of his business! Every damned day.

I sooooo appreciate this post - thanks!

pamela said...

I can't tell you how comforting it is to know I am not alone in this. My boys are almost 3 and 6 and there is a LOT of fighting over toys. I do think though that the working out process is a great way to teach kids about values and how to negotiate through anger. In the last month, I really had to let go of my hopes that it would get easier, which has been my mantra for the last 6 years. There is no easier!!!

Anyway, thank you for this bit of comfort and may the force be with you!! xoxo

shannon said...

update: We now have two long pieces of green masking tape running down the center of the rug in our living room delineating the 2 yr old's area and the 5 yr old's area with a lovely little "free zone" down the middle as a walkway to access his/her appointed sides. So far the kids love it. They spend more time walking back and forth along the "walkway" than they do playing trains.

Alice said...

this is making me feel very retroactively sorry for my mom.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Swistle: Your system is pretty much what we're aiming for. So what you're telling me is that I'm still going to get driven crazy even with this system. GREAT.

Gina- EXACTLY. Z goes ballistic everytime her sister insists on calling something "hers". And our issue that Z hungers for as much time with me and so she never wants to go off by herself. OY.

pamela- I agree. I just cling to the hope that all this negotiation of conflict prepares them for life-- in a good way. I CLING.

shannon- I LOVE IT. Let us know how the line in the sand approach works going forward!

Alice- ME TOO.

Michelle said...

We haven't had this exact problem yet. Peanut just likes to play with all of her baby toys now that we've pulled them out for Gizmo. Thankfully, Gizmo does not care yet and is willing to move on to the next toy and chew and slobber on it. She's pretty happy with that system for now. I'm just waiting for the day when it ends.

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