My daughters have always had a rather volatile relationship. Born just 13 months apart and with polar opposite personalities, they have often struggled living their daily lives in each other’s company particularly when it comes to sharing toys.
In the beginning it was quite easy to get caught in the trap of seeing my eldest, Lucy, as the aggressor in many of their altercations (because, in reality, she was), leaving my youngest, Penny, with no choice but to be considered the victim, always having to be rescued by us.
Over time, and after learning about RIE and reading many expert articles cautioning against not only using these labels for children but also against even perceiving one child as the victim and the other as the perpetrator, we changed how we considered the children’s roles in these struggles. I have previously written about the importance of this shift in mindset and for the most part we have managed to remain neutral umpires during our children’s scuffles.
As the girls have gotten older and wiser, we have been able to enjoy more and more beautiful moments watching them play harmoniously together for extended periods of time. However, with their developing age, significant physical strength has emerged from both of them. Their previously lop-sided battles for toys that used to end quite quickly with Lucy gaining possession of the hot items, were now becoming a much more even contest involving far more drawn-out struggles.
With the drama surrounding these struggles, it can be easy, as parents, to want it ended quickly to restore peace in the house. It is tempting to step in and break up the fight, putting the toy away or giving it to its original owner. We made the decision quite some time ago to allow our children to work through these struggles in their entirety, stepping in only to prevent physical hurt from ensuing.
Tonight, for example, Penny (my 2.5 year old) was initiating a game of hide and seek, crawling under a table and calling out, “You can’t find me!” Whilst under the table she discovered a bead maze that her older sister had left there hours earlier. She picked it up and began playing with it whilst I proceeded to ‘try’ to find her. Hearing a game in progress, Lucy came racing in excitedly and dove under the table only to find Penny with ‘her’ toy.
Hide and seek quickly became a duel between the two as each staked their claim on the maze and fought furiously to defend it. As I crouched under the table beside them, blocking their attempts to grab each other’s hands to prize them off or push each other over, and sportscasting the event, I admired their tenacity and found myself appreciating the courage, strength and determination each of them displayed in this volatile situation.
I could see how healthy this battle was for their strength and resilience in the following ways.
It was loud. To remain assertive in a situation where someone is screaming at you from just centimetres away takes bravery.
It was physical. Gripping an item tightly for an extended period of time whilst someone struggles against you, pushing, pulling and occasionally swiping at you takes immeasurable strength and determination.
It was emotional. Feeling these emotions and conquering them takes resilience and it is liberating and empowering for young children to know they can survive these emotions and come back stronger.
It was authentic. After what seemed an eternity (probably one minute), one of the girls emerged with the item, leaving the other devastated and flailing on the floor. A short time later, that same child had picked herself up, dusted herself off and moved confidently onto a new toy. To feel genuine loss and grieve that loss only to rise again, finding contentment in another toy soon after, empowers them to cope with other forms of hurt, loss and grief they may experience in the future.
As I have come to terms with my children expressing their emotions freely after practicing Magda Gerber’s RIE parenting for nearly two years, I now feel confident to allow my girls the time and space they need to come to their own natural conclusions in their fights for a particular hot item. I am realising that despite the trauma they seem to be going through at the time, they are actually learning so many valuable skills during these scuffles. My interference would only rob them of the chance to grow from these altercations.
Toddler Toy Battles- Interventions that Work (Podcast) ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury- Elevating Childcare)
5 Reasons to Love Conflict ~ Emily Plank – Abundant Life Children
7 Things I Should Know About Helping my Children to Share (From my Toddler Coach) Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)