01/22/2015 04:54 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Resolving a Toddler Toy Fight With One Simple Phrase

Kate Russell

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? While 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. 

Last week, when such a conflict arose between my 2 1/2-year-old and 3 1/2-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 latest coveted item.

Both children desperately wanted to sit on a small bean bag (designed to rest feet on). I wasn't sure who was on their first nor why there was suddenly such a disagreement, but my best guess was that my younger daughter, Penny, had been on the bean bag but 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 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 the victor. 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 victor or removing the prize, it is bound to breed resentment.

I gently acknowledged that they both seemed upset and wanted the cushion. I 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 then 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 victorious with the bean bag and Penny lay distraught on the ground. I sat with Penny and acknowledged her disappointment. She continued to cry while Lucy sat atop the bean bag on the other side of the room, no longer looking the victor. 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 prized 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 while 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)