Toddlers and Toys: How to Deal with Toddlers who Grab Toys at the Park

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What do you do when your child grabs another child’s toys at the park? Discover several awesome strategies here.

I received a great email from a customer, John, in California the other day asking for help. I decided to turn my answer into a blog post because it’s one of those questions that you just know millions of other parents are dealing with. The father who wrote in is struggling with his 3 year old son. The boy seems to be grabbing toys from other children in the playground. When the father corrects the matter (presumably taking the toy away and returning it to the other kid), his son cries and screams.

I love getting emails like this. It takes me back to the days when I too had “toddler toy takers”. So many parents go through this phase with their kids, and it’s a perfectly normal. Kids have to develop. They have to go from knowing nothing about social etiquette, and right from wrong, to actually understanding these things. The only way to get there is to experience these situations first hand. John, you are not alone!

As parents, I’m sure most of us can relate to the stress and frustration of dealing with this problem. Despite logically understanding that these child behaviors are normal, we all somehow think that the other parents will see our kid as a thief in the making. It causes parents to worry and feel embarrassed. The good news is you don’t need to feel this way, and your child will grow out of this behavior as he or she develops socially skills. This is all apart of growing up.

So how can you, as a parent, make this situation easier to deal with? How can you speed up the learning process while avoiding the tears as much as possible? Here are some ideas:

  • Enter your child’s world.  I use this expression a lot, and for good reason.  As a parent you need to really understand what it is like to be in your child’s shoes.  The toy taking behaviour could be as simple as your child’s curiosity, or your child’s way of trying to engage in play with another child.  Most likely he doesn’t realize he’s doing anything wrong.
  • Approach your child with a gentle hand, no matter how you handle it.
  • Set expectations while you are not at the park.  In a non-threatening manner have a talk about the child’s behavior.  Do this at home before going to the park.  If you only bring up the topic when the offence has taken place, emotions are engaged and you’ll get nowhere.  A three year old can listen and express himself just fine.
  • Role play. One way to discuss this at home is to role play.  Have your child hold a toy and pretend he’s at the park.  You play the role of another child.  Go take the toy away.  Ask your child how he’d feel.  Then do something else instead of toy taking.  Askyour child if you can play with him.  Ask if you can borrow the toy.  Role playing will teach better social behavior.
  • Use logical consequences. Once your child understands the social rules, you can implement logical consequences.  Again, you have to communicate the consequence ahead of time, so explain what happens if your child was to steal toys away from another child.  A good logical consequence is to leave the playground.  A poor consequences is something like “no dessert tonight” – because that would be totally disconnected from the behavior  Logical consequences must be communicated in advance and relate to the behavior.
  • Avoid emotion. When you implement a consequence, always remember to be unemotional and calm.  No nagging or whining.  No guilt trip.  Think of it like a policeman writing you a parking ticket.  You get a fine, not a lecture.
  • Think outside the box. Here’s another idea that I bet you won’t have thought of – Ask the caregiver of the other child to politely take the toy back and explain that it doesn’t belong to him. Your child will likely be shocked and confused by this. I suspect this will be a much more powerful lesson to your child since it isn’t mom or dad (or a usual caregiver) correcting the problem.  He may cry and come running over to you.  That’s fine.  You can then remind him of social rules, or explain to him what just happened.  You’ll be in a supportive coaching role rather than trying to police the situation.  Encourage your child to go back and politely ask to join the other child in playing.
  • Teach “use your words”. Always encourage your child to use their words instead of grabbing. Over time, they will see the benefit in this.

Remember we all learn lessons by making lots of mistakes. This goes for you as a parent, and for your children. Come back to the park on another day and practice again.

Want to learn three more powerful language tricks? Listen to this free audio lesson. Do it now because you’re going to love it!

Enjoy your children.

Chris Thompson

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

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14 Responses to Toddlers and Toys: How to Deal with Toddlers who Grab Toys at the Park

  1. PEte October 7, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Makes perfectly good sense. Kids don’t know any better. As parents we need to take a more active role. Good planning is the key.Think ahead. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Veronika October 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Thank you for the article!

    What would you suggest to do when you tell your child to ask to play along or to share a toy, and the other child says ‘no’?

    I usually tell my son to find an other toy or friend to play with. Most of the time this helps, but not always.

    greetings!

    • Chris Thompson October 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

      Kids have to be prepared to understand that this is part of life. Sometimes we run into people who don’t want to share / play etc. So it’s useful to have kids exposed to these experiences early on in my view. I’d just explain to my child that the other kid must not be in a friendly mood right now. Empathize with the disappointment. Distract and move on.

  3. crystal October 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Can you give examples of logical consequences for stealing a toy away in the scenario you gave?

    At the moment, all I can really think of is leaving the park/playgroup/etc but that seems extreme.

    • Chris Thompson October 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi Crystal – leaving is one option. Another option is to leave for a while (5-10 min) as a cool off and come back. Just remember that the consequence needs to be communicated in advance. It shouldn’t be a surprise. So it works well when the child is old enough to understand what you are saying AND connect it to what you are describing.

  4. Mandi Louw October 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    This is wonderfull advise, always great reading these.
    Thank you Chris!

  5. joyce authier October 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Wow, this is perfect for this time in our Kimmie’s life. She is 4 years old and manages to come home with other children’s toys once she leaves her playdate. When her Mom “catches” her she takes the toy away and explains that it is not hers to keep. And then the crying begins. Now I think she will be able to handle situations better with your advise. Thank you again Chris. A concerned Grandma.

  6. Cecilia Eow October 8, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    This is a wonderful advice. Thanks

  7. Rocio gonzalez October 8, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    Great advice, that would work well with my 3 year old son, but I wonder if it would work for my 2 year old twins???

  8. Elaine October 8, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    I loved the tip on role play at home. This was a great reminder that we can use role play in so many ways to teach valuable lessons that will stay in our child’s mind longer than simply talking to our child about a situation/ event. I know exactly how I’m going to address a whole other situation now ( sharing )
    Thanks

  9. kavita October 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    this make so much sense i have being experiencing this allot with my 4 yrs old an is going trough allot lately with him even his teacher at school having this problems with him…i sometimes feel embrass as a parent when his teach gave me a note saying he misbehave in school…i even broke down one day an it’s like i just don’t know where i’m failing as a parent.

  10. Jyoti Dora October 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Hi Chris, My child is 4 years of age and is a Darling. She loves sharing her toys with friends. Whenever she has a new toy she prefers to play with it first and then takes rounds with her friends. My concern is that some children in the park of society just snatch things from her or hit her and she doesnt retaliate, instead she comes over complaining to me… How do I help her??? I tried telling her that if someone snatches her things she can snatch it back for which the other day she said now on if someone is cheating she too would cheat… Pls. help

  11. helen October 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

    wow thank you for that great tips.

    by the way, I have a 2 1/2 years old son, he always pretend to have a long hair and love to walk like a princess.
    Is my son just passing a stage? Is this a sign that he will grow as “gay”? should i allow him to do this?
    I usually talked to him that he is a boy and not a girl….
    Should I be worried about his gesture? is it normal – because he has 4 sisters and only boy in the family.

    what should I do? I will love to hear some advises from you.
    thank you very much

    • Chris Thompson October 25, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      I wouldn’t worry about this at all. I wouldn’t say a thing about it to him.

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