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“TOY-JACKING” - High-Crime or Misdemeanor?

Text Box:  Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Indeed, turn-taking, sharing, and social relations can bring out the best (and/or worst) in us.  Giving and receiving are sources of great joy and satisfaction. “Toy-Jacking” is a common behavior exhibited by young children.  But just because “Toy-Jacking” is “normal” doesn’t mean that we should not work toward building more positive social behaviors.  Here are six techniques to manage “toy-jacking” and to promote sharing.  Each has it’s place in a comprehensive behavior management “tool-box”, and, depending on the situation, each has the potential to be an excellent, good, or adequate approach.

(1) Triangles of Sharing

Using “Triangles of Sharing” can be an excellent approach because it (eventually) teaches children to resolve disputes with minimal or no adult intervention.

STEP 1:  When entering the interaction between “fighting” children, ask, “What do you want?”  Even though it is obvious what each child wants , the question helps de-escalate intense emotion and encourages appropriate use of gestures or words.  By contrast, “What happened?” is a question likely to inflame intense emotion, because the natural response to the question “What happened?” is defensive (“He hit me!”) or accusatory (“She’s an idiot!”).

STEP 2:  After establishing that each child wants the same toy, announce, “It’s my turn,” and proceed to demonstrate about 3-seconds of appropriate play with the toy.  Then place the toy into the hand of one of the children, but don’t release it.  Rather let the child have a brief 3-second turn with the toy while you provide hand-over-hand guidance.  Take the toy back and allow the other child to have the same 3-second turn (e.g., if the original dispute was over a crayon, place the crayon into the child’s hand and physically prompt the child to color with you).

STEP 3:  It’s now your turn to play with the toy again, but this time demonstrate a creative object use (e.g., pretend the crayon is a telephone for about 5 seconds, then release a toy to one of the children).  Encourage that child to imitate the creative object use (or use the toy appropriately in another way).  After about 5-seconds take the toy back and release it to the other child for a 5-second turn.

STEP 4:  Take another turn yourself, release the toy to one of the children, and then encourage that child to share it with the other child after about 10 seconds.

“Triangles of Sharing” can be an excellent approach because there are only 3 possible outcomes, and no matter what the kids do, you will always be teaching something valuable:

Possibility #1: Both children enjoy and participate.  JJ

Obviously, the children each learned to delay gratification, creatively use objects, and share.

Possibility #2:  One kid enjoys the other kid screams/leaves. JL

Kid #1 learns to delay gratification, creatively use objects, and share (with the adult), while kid #2

learns that when he screams he gets nothing (a valuable lesson in playground politics).

Possibility #3:  Both children scream/leave.  LL

Ensure the safety of the children, YOU have fun with the toy, and both of the kids learn that when they scream/fight they get nothing.

“But I don’t have time to do this every time the kids fight over a toy!”

Of course, you will not always have the time or patience to “perform” your magic with Triangles of Sharing, but you should remember: Step 1 (3 seconds) + Step 2 (9 seconds) + Step 3 (15 seconds) + Step 4 (15 seconds) = 42 seconds in total.  Use this “Triangles of Sharing” approach when you have 42 seconds and patience.  If you don’t have the 42 seconds (or the patience at the given moment) then use one of the following techniques.

(2) Trading “Let’s make a deal!”

“Johnny why don’t you give Suzy a different toy, and then maybe she’ll be willing to share with you.”  Encourage Johnny to give a toy to Suzy in exchange for the toy that she possesses and he wants.  Of course, Suzy may reject Johnny’s offer.  While Johnny will obviously not like this, it should not be viewed as a problem by the supervising adult.  Rather, it is an opportunity to teach Johnny more refined “negotiation” skills.  If Suzy remains adamant about not sharing, Johnny can be prompted to accept and move on, or you can become more assertive and implement one of the other techniques for sharing.  Prompting a “Trade” can be an excellent response to “Toy-Jacking” because it teaches a profound lesson:  Giving and Receiving are closely related (e.g., In our careers we give work and time for money; We give water to make a garden grow; The “best” hugs happen when both people give and receive a squeeze!).

(3) Be a Teacher (not a Police Officer)

“Johnny had it first, so Suzy you will need to (wait until Johnny is done)/(wait for one minute). Suzy why don’t I help you find another toy to play with until it’s your turn.”  “Being a Teacher” is a good approach, because it helps the children to delay gratification, and it lays the ground-work for kids to constructively resolve disputes without you being present.  Of course, if the kids escalate emotionally or physically you may need to use one of these other approaches. 

(4) “Time-Out for the TOY”

“Now nobody gets it!”  “Time-Out for the Toy” can be considered an “adequate” approach, rather than an “excellent” approach.  When there is a toy dispute, both kids no doubt feel entitled to play with the toy that is the subject of the dispute, so when you come along, remove the toy, and say, “Now nobody can play with it,” you now become the “Bad Guy” (i.e., the withholder of the privilege).  The kids may resent each other and also resent you.  Also, the technique of “Time-Out for the TOY” does not necessarily teach the kids to resolve problems without you being present.  Of course, “Time-Out for the Toy” also may be considered a “good” approach for resolving Toy-Jacking because in spite of likely resentments there is always the possibility that the kids will learn that “having a war” over a toy benefits no one.  If the kids have the social skills, in the future they may effectively resolve disputes without escalating emotionally and/or physically.

(5) “Be The JUDGE & JURY”

“Johnny, that’s Suzy’s doll! Now go play with something else Johnny!”  “Being the judge & jury” (or “taking sides”) can be considered an “adequate” approach to resolving “Toy-Jacking” because it may “solve” the problem at that moment, but by “taking sides” you do not teach the children how to constructively resolve disputes without you being present.  Of course, if one child physically harms or threatens another child, you may choose (or find it necessary) to intervene in a firm manner by identifying right and wrong and implementing a consequence (while, as always, rewarding positive behavior).


(6) “Survival of the Fittest”

“Let the kids figure it out themselves.”  Not intervening at all can be an adequate solution to “Toy-Jacking” if the kids possess the social skills to independently resolve most disputes, however it also may be a poor solution if it results in injury and/or the creation of a consistent “loser” or “bully”.

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