How to Deal With Three Year Olds Fighting Over A Toy

Written By: Psychologist Natasha Tanic


By the age of three, children are able to recognize and understand their own and other people’s feelings and facial expressions.

They can also control impulses briefly, manage strong emotions, and express them constructively.

Meltdowns and temper tantrums are becoming only sporadic now.

Your child is now beginning to play with other children instead of playing next to them, which was typical in infant and toddler years.

However, conflicts with friends become commonplace during the preschool years.

Why Do Three Year Olds Fight Over A Toy?

Three year old kids are beginning to understand the concepts of “mine” and “yours” and learn about ownership and independence ideas.

Therefore, they may have difficulties sharing toys with friends or engaging in conflicts while playing with other children.

However, this behavior is normal and developmentally appropriate.

Why?

Because young children still don’t know how to totally control their emotions and don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings.

Young kids have a hard time understanding that others have different ideas.

At times, your child may appear insensitive when they fight over a toy or when one of their friends gets hurt.

Don’t Be Concerned

This is a normal part of your child’s development, and it’s called egocentrism.

Egocentrism or egocentric thinking represents a child’s inability to discriminate between their own and other people’s perspectives.

Three year olds believe it’s all about them, so they have problems understanding a viewpoint other than their own.

According to one psychosocial development theory, kids at this age have to work out the tension between self-confidence and self-control and resolve a specific developmental crisis: autonomy (independence) versus doubt (shame).

They are working toward independence and a sense of self, and fighting over toys is a part of this process.

Taking the specific steps below can help your three year old overcome challenging behaviors, and teach them how to share and get along with others.

Help Your Child Learn To Control Their Emotions

Emotional control represents our ability to manage stress, achieve goals, build and maintain positive relationships.

A child who develops emotional control can easily self-soothe and bounce back from disappointment and distress.

Emotional control is an essential aspect of social and emotional development.

This set of skills enables kids to understand their own and other people’s feelings, direct their behavior towards the goals, and cope with stress.

Use different strategies to teach your three year old anger management strategies and help him regain control over his frustration.

Teach your little one to use his words to show feelings and to think of positive ways to solve problems and conflicts.

To encourage problem-solving skills, provide toys such as puzzles, shape sorters, wooden blocks, construction sets, and building toys.

The ability to control his emotions can help your child overcome frustration when a friend takes his toy away.

However, self-management is also at the foundation of life success as it helps us build healthy relationships and achieve our goals.

Help Your Child Distinguish Feelings From Behavior

Preschoolers still have difficulty understanding the difference between their negative feelings and undesirable behavior.

Buying age-appropriate books and reading stories can help your child recognize different emotions and develop a vocabulary to express them.

Help your child to communicate her emotions verbally or through art.

Teach her how to recognize specific feelings, such as anger, sadness, or embarrassment, so she can express them appropriately.

Your child’s aggressive behavior often stems from feelings of discomfort, frustration, or shame.

Talking about her negative emotions helps her feel in control of them, which reduces the possibility of temper tantrums.

Explain to your three year old that it is okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to hurt her friends or throw toys. Help her understand that she is in control of her actions when she feels mad.

Encourage Pretend Play

Offer various pretend play toys such as dolls, dollhouses, dress-up clothes, pretend food, etc. to nurture your child’s social and emotional development.

Imaginary play helps kids verbalize their own emotions, especially when angry, frustrated, and disappointed.

Also, pretend play teaches children how to share, negotiate, take turns, and become independent and responsible.

Provide Toys that Boost Cooperation and Turn-Taking

Promote cooperation, responsibility, and turn-taking skills by arranging playdates with other kids and encouraging unstructured play at home.

Make-believe play with friends encourages collaboration and cooperation, and boosts empathy.

It also helps children consider different perspectives, develop their own ideas, and think of solutions to problems.

Role-play props such as kids’ kitchens, role-play doctor’s kits, and construction kits encourage young children to explore and express their feelings, develop language and literacy, and practice cooperation and turn-taking.

Teach Your Child Healthy Coping Skills

Be a good role model and teach your kids appropriate ways to deal with their strong emotions.

Show them how you deal with your feelings, especially when you feel upset.

Teach them to use words to explain the problem and praise them if they continue to play peacefully after the incident.

Discuss different ways to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Provide Distraction And Redirect Behavior

When you notice that your three year old is becoming overwhelmed, try distracting him.

Use redirection for younger kids to switch their attention, offer different kinds of toys, suggest another fun activity, and put away the toy your child doesn’t want to share.

Don’t Force Your Child To Share

Research shows that when parents take away toys or force children to do something, they are less likely to cooperate and follow their parents’ rules than when parents use discussion and reasoning.

Always give your child the option of sharing her things or not.

Kids should be able to decide whether and with whom they want to share their belongings.

Allowing your child the choice to refuse to give their toys will not nurture selfishness, but it will teach her to use good judgment, set boundaries, and protect her personal belongings and space.

Summary

Although they enjoy playing with other kids, three year olds occasionally get into a fight over a toy with their playmates.

Although troubling, this behavior is a natural part of your child’s growing up and development.

This behavior will improve as they grow. But you can take steps to teach your child how to cope and get along with others.

Redirecting your child’s behavior and teaching them self-management skills will help your child develop essential social skills and keep your stress at bay.

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