When the days are gone when a toddler can be distracted from a lost toy by something shiny, some parents can suddenly feel like their delightful baby is gone, and in their place is this selfish toddler. When Baby starts labeling everything as theirs, remember that this is a stage of development and not a reflection of their personality.
Embrace the absurdity
One of the best ways to deal with how frustrating it can be to hear the word “mine” over and over is to find the joy in it. If Baby points to your hand and declares “mine!”, enjoy how ridiculous that is. If Baby reaches onto your plate and declares the tastiest bites as theirs, take it in stride. Having a mindset of enjoyment and appreciation for what Baby does can make an otherwise annoying behavior fun.
Realize their world is growing
To be able to confidently say “mine” Baby has to be able to understand “me.” That’s a huge concept!
Having a sense of ownership of things is how Baby practices independence and individuality. It also brings them a sense of comfort. Just like the way, at the end of a long day, all you want is to feel the warmth of your own bed, when Baby holds a toy close that belongs to them, they might feel more at ease.
Baby is also still mastering object permanence. It isn’t completely clear that when you take something away from them that it will come back. When Baby preemptively clings to something when you, or maybe another toddler friend, approaches it’s often an expression of fear not just that you’ll take the object away but that it won’t return.
For now, Baby can extend their sense of self to an object they are holding, eventually they will be able to do it with objects they own that aren’t in sight.
Opportunities to explore sharing
Baby is still too young to really get sharing. They have an understanding of “me” but likely still struggles with the concept “you.”
What you can start to do now is model prosocial behavior, which are actions that help others rather than yourself. Try to demonstrate how sharing or giving an object makes someone else happy, and emphasize what indicates that.
“Did you see when you let Trina have the toy that she smiled? You made Trina happy!”
Also, remember that ownership is easy and sharing is hard. How difficult a time do you have sharing things? If a stranger asked to borrow your car, you’d likely say no. Baby doesn’t own a car, but they might own a toy car and maybe they think it’s just as important.
The “mine” phase is hard. If you can, find the fun in it, and if you can’t, at least try to use it as an opportunity to teach some really powerful social behaviors.
- Nicholas Day. “Stop Telling Your Toddler to Share!” Slate. Slate, May 8 2013. Retrieved June 1 2017. http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies_work/2013/05/08/toddlers_learn_sharing_and_cooperation_from_the_environment_not_from_parents.html.
- Margarita Svetlova, Sara R. Nichols, Celia A Brownell. “Toddlers’ Prosocial Behavior: From Instrumental to Empathic to Altruistic Helping.” Child Development. November-December 2010. 81(6): 1814-1827. Retrieved June 1 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088085/.
- Margarita Svetlova, Sara R. Nichols, Celia A Brownell. “To share or not to share: When do toddlers respond to another’s needs.” Infancy. January-February 2009. 14(1): 117-130. Retrieved June 1 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3359011/.