Resolving a Toy Fight With One Simple Phrase

We have been through our fair share of sibling toy fights  with our daughters’ fiery personalities and close age gap. Thankfully, since following the wise advice of Janet Lansbury and the RIE parenting philosophy, we are now seeing less and less of these battles as our children are both developing in emotional maturity and have now had significant practice at working through conflict before it gets to the kind of all in brawls we have been used to in the past.

But what do you do as a parent when your children enter the ring for a wrestling match over a toy? Whilst it is important that they are given every opportunity to work through the conflict themselves, they do require parental presence and guidance to help keep them safe. Parental support will also give them the confidence to see the conflict through and find their own resolution. Resolving a Toddler Toy Fight With One Simple Phrase ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Last week, when such a conflict arose between my two and a half year old and three and a half year old, I was again reminded of the importance of the parents’ role in these struggles. I was pleased to be able to confidently remain a strong presence for my children, using the simple phrase: “I won’t let you touch her. I need to keep you safe!” as they worked hard to stake their claim on the item.

Both children desperately wanted to sit on a small bean bag (designed to rest feet on). I wasn’t sure who was on there first nor why there was suddenly such a disagreement. My best guess was that my younger daughter, Penny, had been on the bean bag but had left it for a while, opening the door for her older sister, Lucy, to have a turn. When Penny returned, however, it was quite clear she meant to resume sitting in that spot and was now making a significant effort to reclaim the bag.

By the time I got there it was getting quite physical but I didn’t feel it was my place to decide who should end up with the bag. To me and certainly to them, they both had a good case to present as to why they should have it. If I were to resolve this conflict for them by choosing a recipient or removing the bean bag altogether, it was bound to cause resentment.

I gently acknowledged that they both seemed upset and wanted the bean bag. I then allowed the scuffle to proceed with the repeated use of the phrase:

“I won’t let you touch her. I need to keep you safe!”

This meant ensuring they had no physical contact with each other. They could struggle as much as they liked over the actual bean bag but were not permitted to touch each other.

I let them work through their disagreement naturally; confident that by staying close and repeating those words as I blocked attempts to swipe, push or prise fingers off the bag, the girls would eventually work it out.

And they did. After a significant period of time, Lucy emerged with the bean bag in arms and Penny lay distraught on the ground. I sat with Penny and acknowledged her disappointment. She continued to cry whilst Lucy sat atop the bean bag on the other side of the room.

Funnily enough, she didn’t look the like a victor and i’m fairly sure she did not feel like a victor either. In fact, I am confident that she couldn’t really care less about the bean bag. It wasn’t about her desire to use the item, she was simply wanting to assert herself and do as toddlers do, objecting for the sake of objecting.

She did not seem to be able to relax into her newly acquired seat and as she squirmed uncomfortably, I could just about predict (based on past occurrences) what was going to happen.

Lucy suddenly leapt up from the bean bag and exclaimed: “I’m finished now. Here you go, Penny!” She picked up the bag and offered it to her sister who looked up warily from her position on the floor. She wiped her tears from her cheeks with the back of her hands and glanced at me quickly before accepting the object back from her sister.

Lucy then enthusiastically suggested, “Do you want to be the Mum and I’ll be the baby?”

My job was done. I had barely said a thing. Staying close and on guard whilst repeating, “I won’t let you touch her. I need to keep you safe!” was all I needed to do to support my children through their disagreement. This was their fight, not mine and I did not need to take on any further role than that.

You might also like to read:

Why I Allow My Children to Struggle Over Toys ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

7 Things I Should Know About Helping My Children to Share ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Could Not Forcing a Toddler to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts? ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Helping Toddlers Resolve Conflicts ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury: Elevating Childcare)

Toddler Toy Battles: Interventions That Work ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury: Elevating Childcare)

5 Reasons to Love Conflict ~ Emily Plank (Abundant Life Children)

Resolving a Toddler Toy Fight With One Simple Phrase ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids


21 thoughts on “Resolving a Toy Fight With One Simple Phrase

  1. katepickle

    Love this!
    And I can add that not only does attempting the step in and solve the problem cause resentment… it will forever set you up to be referee and judge! And take it from me… that is a crappy lesson to learn after the fact as a parent and a hard habit to break!

  2. Debs

    That was a really interesting read. It’s so easy to jump in and “solve” your children’s fights but we’re not always going to be there, so they need learn how to solve these problems themselves, and without getting physical. Thanks for the food for thought.

  3. Kate - An Everyday Story

    I think I need to be more mindful with this. I think I am setting the kids up to come to me to sort out their disagreements and like Kate said, I don’t want to go down that path.

    I know I need to work on not letting their fights bother me. It is the one thing that I really have a hard time dealing with. I just want the fighting to stop NOW and so I generally step in to finish it.

    You’ll have me saying this now 🙂

    1. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

      I know what you mean about wanting it to stop now, Kate! The five minutes of hell raising screaming can feel like torture as they sort it out themselves.
      I hope this gives you more confidence and courage to let them see it through 🙂
      Kate xx

  4. Kelly @ Happy Whimsical Hearts

    Your posts often challenge my thinking on ideas – and this is one of them! I have been trying to allow my children to resolve their disputes, but have tried giving them some guidance and direction on the how. Perhaps I need to step back even further. Thank you for challenging me.

  5. Kate - The Craft Train

    My girls fight over things all the time! This sounds like a great strategy – I dislike getting involved with their arguments because I want them to learn to sort out disagreements themselves. It definitely gets trickier to deal with when somebody gets hurt. Pinning.

  6. Jackie

    You are one patient and selfless mama Kate. I read this just feeling guilty that I would not be able to resist stepping in if my kids were having such a physical battle over a bean bag.

  7. Heidi

    Hi, I’m new to this site but have been reading a lot about parenting lately. My husband and I have a beautifully strong willed 3 year old and it’s often a challenge for us to teach and discipline peacefully. Your technique is not one I’ve read before. How are you “teaching” your children about resolving their conflict if you aren’t guiding them? I understand about having them work it out, however is there guidance you give them regarding fairness, kindness, etc in this situation besides just stepping back and only engaging when they get violent?
    Your thoughts are appreciated. 🙂

  8. peacefulparentsconfidentkids Post author

    Hi Heidi, and welcome!
    The style of parenting I follow and blog about (RIE) uses the basic premise that children are capable beings with inherent goodness, who can be trusted to learn many of life’s fundamental skills when they are ready to do so. In order for them to thrive in this way, they need to work in respectful partnership with their parents. Parents must trust them to use the skills they have to work through disagreements whilst ensuring they are kept safe and also modelling the behaviour they hope to see in their kids in their daily interactions.
    Children are innately kind but the concept of fairness is a societal construct which develops in children as they grow. That is why young children and babies have no worries taking a toy from another child and often the otherbaby has no issues with the toy being taken. It is only once parents step in and make a deal about ‘sharing’ that the child gains a sense of the injustice.
    Of course, ultimately all children pass through a developmental stage whereby they are in an egocentric state and expect to have all things at all times. This is usually when parents jump in to ‘teach’ them that they have to share but there is research that shows that children’s brains are not wired to be able to see things from another persons perspective until some time after toddlerhood. Therefore teaching them kindness and fairness can only be done by using punitive discipline (ie. ensuring children associate a negative feeling with the action to get them to stop the behaviour) which is neither kind nor fair. It may produce the desired result (although, many times it does not) but in the mean time, you have only served to cause a disconnect between parent and child and taken away a little of the innate kindness and fairness as they do these things to follow rules and avoid punishment rather than because of a genuine feeling or kindness or fairness..
    Children learn more about kindness and fairness by watching us EVERYDAY from the time they are born. If they experience kindness, acceptance, fairness etc. on a daily basis then this is what they will learn to do in turn.
    It has been a long road with my two daughters but my nearly 4 year old is just starting to poke her head through the other side of her toddlerhood irrationality and it is such a joy to see her innate generosity and kindness blossom. When she gets in conflict with her sister (who is right in the middle of her egocentric phase) it is normally because she is having a hard time regulating the strong emotions she is feeling towards her (another developmental stage) and cannot find a different way to communicate. It is not normally because she really wants or needs the object in question. Therefore it is important to afford her the time and space to work through these emotions and not automatically jump in to teach her about fairness/ kindness etc as these things are not normally the issue.
    Sorry this is so long winded. It is incredibly difficult to sum up this rationale in a small amount of words. I hope I have given you a little more clarity but if you still have more questions I would be more than happy to ‘chat’ with you via email –

    1. Tian

      Hi I’m sorry may I ask when you say ‘I won’t let you toouch her, I need to Keep you safe’, which kid do you refer to? My 3yrs old and 10mths are snatching toys now…..

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