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I have 1yo and 4yo boys and it's very usual that the elder child takes away toys or doesn't allow the youngest to play with the toys, arguing that all the toys belong to him. We tried to explain to him that he should share his toys, it doesn't work. Another time we tried to give the youngest his own toys and told the elder child that he shouldn't take away the younger child's toys. This approach didn't work with the youngest, because he wanted to grab the elder child's toys. So should we teach them to share toys or to have their own toys?

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I have three kids. The way we handle this is that if it is in your room, it's off limits and the others have to ask before they can come in your room and play with it. If it is in a common area, then it is fair game and it's strictly first come first server. We also have a "new toy" rule. The first two days you have a toy, you get first priority of playing with it, regardless of where it is or who was playing with it first. If not everyone has their own room, you could have some other sort of "safety-zone" like a shelf or closet where they can store particularly prized toys.

Also, if it is commmunity property then it's first come, first server and if more than one wants to play with it, we set a five minute timer and keep swapping back and forth until one or both get tired of playing with it.

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+1 for defining personal space –  nGinius Apr 23 '11 at 6:00
    
As a former child, I can confirm that this is the correct answer. Compulsory sharing of personal items is one of the most terrible ideas I've ever heard or experienced; having toys in a common area be fair game for everyone is a reasonable compromise that most children will be happy to accept, so long as they get to keep a "safety-zone" for the things they don't want anybody else to touch. –  Jonathan Sterling Apr 25 '11 at 15:05
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This is a good question. We have a 5yo, 3yo, and 20 month old twins who often have toy ownership confrontations. Dealing with ownership issues is a constant task for us. Generally, in our house it is a free-for-all, meaning that anybody can play with any toy, even if it was a gift given to one child specifically. Our reason for this choice is that with four little kids, we honestly can't keep up with which toys belong to which kid, and we have no desire to try to do so.

When there is a conflict, we don't "share", we "take turns". let's say my 5yo just got a new space shuttle toy last week and when he wakes up he sees that my 3yo is playing with it. Inevitably he will throw a fit. We handle the situation like this:

  • Parent [to 5yo]: "He is playing with the toy right now, but I see you're upset about that."

  • 5yo: "That's my space shuttle, I want to play with it, I don't want him to play with it. I don't want to share."

  • Parent [to 5yo]: "I understand that you want to play with it. He started playing with it first, so you'll have to wait 10 minutes and you can have your turn."

  • Parent [to 3yo]: "Your brother wants to play with the space shuttle too, so you'll have to give it to him in 10 minutes. I'll set the timer."

Then set a timer and make sure the hand-off happens.

My kids have gotten so used to this, that now they say this to each other, "That's my toy, I want it back in 10 minutes".

This isn't without issue of course. Sometimes waiting 10 minutes isn't good enough and they throw a fit. We stand by the tradeoff policy and separate the kids so there is no fighting or retaliation.

This works well for us, and our kids are generally able to share and take turns very well when playing with each other and with other children.

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btw thanks for the proofreading –  user54 Apr 22 '11 at 13:27
    
+1 for the use of a very evident tool, the timer -- and for "not sharing, but taking turns". –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 22 '11 at 20:04
    
+1 for the timer and turn-taking. We also add the step where the child asks to play with the toy: "When you are done, may I please have a turn?" If the answer is no, the timer gets set. Usually there is no need for a timer. Child #1 will take a few more minutes as a show of power over the toy and then give it up willingly, thereby eliciting praise from us. –  nGinius Apr 23 '11 at 5:59
    
I grew up with 4 younger siblings and similar "toys are common property" rules. It didn't really matter who a toy was purchased for or given to, if someone else was playing with it we had to share or wait our turn. Honestly, I don't remember having many fights over toys growing up. I plan to use similar rules with my kiddos. –  Rachel Apr 4 '12 at 2:29
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I have this same issue with my daughter and son. My son is the younger of the two, and they both want what each other has to play with. What I do is this. I let them have their own room for their special toys they dont want to share, and I have the shared all the time toys in my living room. That way if they want to play with their own toys they can go in to their room and play in there alone. It's been working somewhat well for me.

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I think you will always have this, younger kids want to grab anything they can, often older kids will see any toy as interesting, especially something they have never seen before and may not be for them. My boys have the same thing, I have to continually tell my 5 yr old not to take toys from his 1 year old brother. My simple rule, if its in the hand its not yours. You want it then wait until its not being used, and you can share it later. It's a continual message and you'll have to repeat it over and over until the message sinks in, but its gotten better for us though I still need to do it.

Sometimes I see the action as a way of attention, especially around the times I have spent some more time with the younger boy than the older, so I just gently change attention while repeating the message. Is the cause the same for you?

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