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Your children are playing happily. Suddenly, you hear them yelling and notice that they both grab on to the same toy and fight over it.

You don't know who "had it first" and, thus, has some kind of "moral right" to play with it. They both can't talk yet (or have just started to talk), so you can't ask them what happened.

How do you react? Take away the toy (which might be unfair to the child who "had it first" and played with it)? Force them to play together (how, with toddlers)?

(Let's assume that it is not possible to get a second copy of the toy in a feasible amount of time, i.e., in the few minutes until their attention shifts to something else.)

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    This happened many times as my two kids were growing up, during the toddler stage. They both (a boy and a girl) liked the star wars light sabers, but my son got one for his birthday and they fought over it a lot. It was 12 dollars, so I bought another one, and they both played with each of theirs together. Sometimes the most obvious simple answer is the answer. – user29389 Nov 5 '17 at 18:12
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    Clearly the only feasible thing to do here is cut the toy in half. – SomeShinyObject Nov 7 '17 at 2:48
  • @Heinzi, with my kids it dos not work to have a second copy of the toy. We tried to buy 2 toys but different colour so booth want just one colour and they fight. If we buying then we are buying completely different toys – nzambi Nov 7 '17 at 14:59
  • In my large family (5 siblings) when we fought over a toy my mother would say "I am sorry this toy is causing you to be angry at each other, I guess I need to take it away so that you don't fight over it". We'd get it back in a month, usually. Didn't stop all the fighting but when we got it back we would make an effort to figure out how to fairly share it. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Nov 8 '17 at 17:42
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    My mom always said, "if you can't figure out how to share, then the toy goes away." I'm not sure this would work with kids that young though cause they can't talk to each other even if they understand you. But it was a good life approach - it taught us we had to solve our own problems rather than appealing to a higher authority, which was also good for our sibling relationship - we never resented each other for being "ratted out" as it were. – MAA Nov 8 '17 at 22:23
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"Fairness" is not really a concept toddlers understand at the preverbal stage. What they do understand is MINE!. And they're both thinking, MINE! at that moment.

This is where having other toys to distract one or both toddlers comes in handy. The concept is to trade up: here's something we can trade. Do you like it more? If one or both like it, they will go for it. Since there are two toddlers, bring at least two different toys.

At some point in their development, fairness does become important, but not yet. When you don't know who had the toy first, try to distract both of them, or one until they're both happy.

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  • If you cannot cheaply and reasonably get a second one to keep the peace, this is the way to go. – user29389 Nov 5 '17 at 18:12
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We tried taking the toy away but that didn't work out very well.

What did work was to sit them down, tell them that they are going to take 5 minute turns with the toy. Then flip a coin as to who gets it first. I elect one to call heads or tails and the other to throw the coin - they couldn't really "flip" it at that age.

The first time this happened the child that "lost" the first turn broke out into tears BUT those went away rather quickly. We kept this tradition up and I ended up buying an egg timer they can control for setting their own time limits on turns.

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In addition to other answers and if distraction does not work.... I would likely do one of the following ( I do not see there being any completely fair solution but I do believe it is important for children to learn that fighting over toys like that is not a good solution to problems)

  • take the toy away all together and tell them that is not a nice way to play and put it back out again later ( preferably with two or more toys similar if this particular toy keeps causing arguments

  • facilitate for them to take turns. Arbitrarily pick one of the children to have the first turn and time them so each child gets a two minute turn.

Next time I would try and take more time to interact with them while playing or to simply sit with them and observe so you can see what goes on before arguments start the next time and intervene or guide gently as you see fit when you have more information on who started what and how the play was going etc. This is not always possibly I know but it does help.

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It is a great opportunity to teach them to negotiate. You start by offering one of them a different toy. Then you show them how to do this. My twins did this often as 2 year olds. As they get older you help them strike deals of how long a turn each one will have.

But, it is not always important to mix in so fast, unless the fighting gets out of hand. You don't call the cops for every argument with your neighbor and they don't need you running their playtime. But, you can use it as an opportunity to teach them important life skills.

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Divert their attention towards something else. I would suggest you try any of these

a) A new toy or toys (Works unless both want the same new toy again)

b) A treat for both of them so they'll forget the toy (Works most of the time but this can't be done frequently because of health concerns)

c) Something on TV for a few minutes (Works but some parents would not approve of TV at this age)

d) Take them out of the house for a stroll (Depends on the weather and if kids like going outside)

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  • This strikes me as almost rewarding their behavior - they fight, they get a new toy, they get a treat, they get to watch TV that they like, they get personal adult attention. I'm not sure that this would help to prevent recurrent behavior over time, which, while it might not be possible in the short term, would be the eventual goal, I'd think. – PoloHoleSet May 20 '19 at 15:36

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