Q: I dread the unavoidable fighting over toys that occurs right after Christmas. What are some ideas for handing the battles?

A: First, lets look at what we really want our children to learn from our discipline. Discipline is not just punishing kids for being bad, rather it is teaching children what they need to know to behave appropriately and be successful in life. What we want our children to learn when they are fighting over toys, is how to solve their own problems and get along. So, try not to get into the problem and solve the matter for them by getting into details of who had it first, who took it away, who's at fault, or who's toy it is, etc. This will only encourage your children to use manipulations, tattling, lying, and favoritism in the future. If the children are of similar age, simply state something like, "There seems to be fighting over this toy, we need to put it away for a while." Then take the toy and put it away for an age appropriate amount of time. This makes fighting less rewarding than working it out for both. Be consistent. Continue to remove toys every time they fight over them. As mentioned earlier, eventually the possibility of both children loosing the toy will motivate them to work it out. They will learn that sharing and cooperation pays off. Don't let them fight for a long time before taking the toy. This only encourages more bad feelings. After you have consistently done this for awhile, you can even stop arguments by simply saying, "I think I hear fighting, do I need to give that troublesome toy a time out?" To which you will start to hear, "No! No! We're not fighting." And they will work it out. Please note that this only works for children above the age of about 2 years. Under 2 years of age the child is not able to understand very well the concept of sharing as they see the toy as part of themselves. Also, if there is a big age difference, like a 7 and 2 year-old, encourage the older child to be responsible with his toys. For example you might say, "Gee, I wonder what your 2 year old sister will do when she finds that super cool Lego space ship you just built lying on the floor?" The older child will probably be open to putting his ship up somewhere where it might be safe, learning responsibility and preventing future fights.

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