Playgroup Conflicts

Armin Brott's picture


Dear Mr. Dad,

My three-year-old is a sweetheart at preschool and at the playground, but at home it's a different story. Whenever he has a little friend over, he flings his body across his toys and yells, "Mine, all the toys are mine." If the other child even tries to pick one up, he pushes her away. Why won't my child share


Sharing is rare in the preschool years, so you're certainly not alone. Kids this age engage in what's called "parallel play," meaning they'll play in the same room but they really won't have much to do with each other. However, with a bit of preparation, you can make those preschool play dates more fun for you and the kids.

The morning of the play date, explain to your child what's going to be happening. Tell him that his friend is coming over to play and ask him to help you take out the toys he thinks they might want to play with. Put away your son's special toys or anything else you know he can't bear to share.

When the other child arrives, show her all the toy options. Anticipate conflict before it begins, and offer alternative playthings. Trading one toy for another often works better than taking disputed toys away. But if the tug of war is endless, you'll have to remove the treasured item from both sides and hide it for a while.

Time limits for playing with popular toys are good, too. For a ride-on toy, for example, you might count to 10 or 20 bounces or rocks before it's time to switch (that's a good way for the kids to practice counting, too). If things really get out of control, try offering a snack break.

Keep play dates short. After an hour or so (sooner if the screaming gets too loud), wrap it up. Explain to your child that his friend has to go home to have lunch or a nap, and that next time you'll go to her house to play.

Finally, let the children touch each other. It's their way of exploring objects (yes, they consider people to be objects, too) they're interested in. But remind them that they need to be gentle, just like they are when they're petting an animal -- no pushing or poking.

If the kids have to by physically separated, make sure you get the other parent involved before touching his or her child. The last thing you want to is have two grownups squabbling about whose kid did what.
-- "Mr. Dad"