Toy Etiquette at the Playground

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What should I do when my toddler grabs kids' toys?

Feb 2012

I'm new to this playground stuff (as a mom). What should I do when my 17 month old tries to grab other kids toys at the playground? For the most part, I try to redirect her, but sometimes there are so many around that she can't resist. Sometimes the kids share and sometimes they get very upset. Should I just let them hash it out or pull her away kicking and screaming?

Most kids that age don't have the skills to work things out. Maybe bring a toy of your own to offer the other child. If that doesn't help I think the right thing to do is get the toy back to the upset kid whose toy it is. been there

Hi- The way I handle it at a park is the same way I handle it at home, and I have 3 kids that are close in age and despite having a million toys, always seem to want the same thing!!

I intervene and remind them to use their words and not their hands. Ask the person who had the toy first if they could share it and the other one can have a turn with it when they are done (or in a few minutes). I then give a few minutes and say ''ok, time to share!'' I often model asking and have them repeat it (''will you give me turn when after you play for a few more minutes?''), so they can develop the skills on their own. At home if I see a tug of war happening, my kids know I will simply take the toy away for using hands, not words, but that isn't a solution at a park with other kids. I don't think letting them work it out by sheer will and force without learning to develop sharing skills is a great long term is absolutely rough to have to mitigate this for a what feels like millions of times, but when I see my older two (ages 7 and 4) doing it on their own with their 3 year old brother or friends, there is pay off! mama bear of 3

Bring a big net bag of toys. Dump them out when you get to the playground. Redirect your child to her toys. Or try to get the upset child interested in one of your child's toys. A toddler shouldn't have to fight another kid to get his own toys back, a parent should intervene. I loved the grandmas, nannies, and other experienced people who brought a ton of toys and shared them when I was at the playground without toys. anon

Hi. I think of the playground as a place to practice all that stuff. No one gets it quite right, but we keep trying. I think older kids are more willing to let a little one play with a toy - I used to explain ''he doesn't know how to share yet, because he's very little, can he play with your shovel for a little while?'' If not, I'd find a strategy for giving it back. You can also bring lots of toys, some to share and some for your little one to play with. Abundance seems to smooth over the bumps. It's good to let them work some of it out on their own, but I think you have to step in when your toddler grabs other kids toys. I recently saw some older kids yell and try to hit at a little one for grabbing their toy... Not a common occurance - but it's worth keeping a close eye on the interactions. I'm sure you'll find your way. nother momma

Other children, parents and care givers will appreciate it and welcome you and your child more IF you stay close to her when she is in a ''live toy'' grabbing mode and, you get her attention before she grabs the toy, or give the toy back to the other child after she grabs. The live toy idea was discussed by Barry Brazelton (sp?) in one of his great old books, i think. Kids are naturally drawn to want the toy that another kid is already using. They need to learn to take turns. It is especially exausting to help them learn it but it willserve you two well.

When my kid was in the play ground as a toddler other parents and i would often tell our kids and others that. '' Oh she is playing with that right now. She will be glad to give it to you when she is done. Would you like to play with this other toy while you wait?''. And then when she give it to the waiting formerly grabbing kid, the one doing the sharing is praised, as is the one who was waiting. ''thank you for sharing, ..and thank YOU for waiting your turn!''. Other grown ups will not feel comfortable taking a grabbed item out of your kids hands, but you can and you probably should do so. You should probably give the grabbed item back to the other kid and apologize and ask them to share it with yor kid when they are done. Ohhhmmmmm. Anon.

My response? Use your best judgement as each situation comes up. Pay attention (be a ''helicopter parent,'' like me! lol) and when she's steamrolling over someone else too much, intervene. It's also okay at this age to offer her something else as a distraction, if that might work to circumvent the inevitable melt-down over having you hand back the toy she just grabbed from someone...

Also, conversely, if she's occasionally grabbing from someone and the kid in question doesn't seem too phased by it, try letting it go. Still pay attention, but allow them to work it out. It also seems like an okay idea to occasionally try letting them ''work it out'' when the kid DOES get mad at her for grabbing. This will give her a chance to experience the response of her actions towards others. If she's naturally empathetic, this may help curb her behavior. If she's not (don't worry, that probably will come later for her), then she may not care about another kid's emotional pain (quite common! and this will be good for you to note as well.

In all of this please try to remain calm and keep your sense of humor -esp. when dealing with the other moms! It may blow your mind to find out how aggressive, critical, and judgmental some of the moms will be... But don't trip. We've all been there. If a mom unleashes her fury on you for not parenting ''right'' (ha!) try to blow it off and regroup somewhere else. Mamas can be ferocious when *protecting* their young.

Good luck on the playground! If I see you there, my daughter will be the one trying to hug your daughter the entire time while I gently explain to her that the other kids actually came there to play with toys... LOL

Mama of Over-Hugger

As a mom who brings toys to the playground, I expect that other kids might want to play with the toys we bring -- no problem. We only bring toys that we are ok sharing.

The issue about what to do when the kids aren't getting along on the playground (whether it is over a toy or anything else) is a separate issue altogether. At 17 months old, kids can't ''hash it out'' themselves and parental intervention is definitely needed. If my child wants to play with another child's toy, and it causes the other child to cry, then I will tell my little one that the other child was still playing with the toy and she needs to give it back. If I have to pick her up and play in another part of the playground (even if it makes her cry), well, so be it -- it is part of being a parent and setting boundaries.

The question you should ask yourself is whether you will be annoyed when the other parent steps in and corrects your child (since they do have every right to step in and protect their child from yours). If you don't want someone else to correct your little one, then yes, you need to do it even if your little one has a meltdown. Playground Mom

TOYS? To bring or not to bring to park?

June 2011

Curious about people's general feelings about bringing toys to the park or not. Do you like to bring toys or not? Fun or more trouble than it is worth? What challenges do you find? What is the playground etiquette? I usually like to bring some sand toys or trucks since the supplies at the park can be pretty scant. We are happy to share toys, but it can get awkward when it is time to leave and other kids are playing with toys that we are about to take. The post below Annoying kids with rude parents at the playground sort of covers the question, but most responses are directed at the mom being annoyed at the other parent, rather than on general advice about bringing toys to the park. Thanks! New to playground

My advice is to buy cheap toys you're not too attached to, and to put your child's name clearly on them with a Sharpie. If other kids are playing with them when it's time to go, try to give a little warning and then gently say ''Mary has to go now so she needs to pack up her toys.'' We never had a problem with this. The other parents generally were very helpful, in fact were often anxious to demonstrate that they knew the toys belonged to us and to make sure beforehand that it was okay to use them.

I have this dilemma too. If I don't bring the toys, my son wants to play with others'. If I do bring them, other kids want to play with my sons'! I usually wind up NOT bringing them, but only because that's the easy solution (fewer extra bags to carry, less to keep track of). However, on the days I do bring the toys, I don't really find it that much of a problem to get the toys back from the other kids. Usually a parent is around to help with the transition, and really, it is part of growing up -- learning to share, learning to part with things -- so maybe you are a doing a service to the other kids by helping them with this lesson. Playground Mama

I absolutely do bring toys to the park for my child to play with. My strategy is to either be protective of the toys and not let other children play with them and put them away when my child wanders away from them or to let my child share at their own comfort level and learn to get comfortable with taking toys away from other children when it is time to go.

Depending on the age of the child, I use a couple of techniques. A very young child who doesn't neccessarily understand about giving the toy back will always have a caretaker close by, so you can ask the adult with the child to get the toy back. With older children, I let them know that we will ask for the toy back when we leave and I will need the toy back if they leave. Then I always give the child warning that I will be taking the toy back soon when I warn my own child that we are leaving soon. As long as you are kind and firm about it, I wouldn't worry about upsetting another child. They will have to learn about sharing and other people's things at some point and you will have to learn to set boundaries with other people's children at some point too - might as well be at the park. love bringing sand toys to the park

I feel it's fine to bring toys to the park. It's more gracious if you share, but not necessary--depends on the toy, crowd, whether it's a toy-accumulation park or not, how other kids are handling the toy, etc. When it's time to go, I usually just say to the child playing with our toy: ''I'm glad you got a chance to play with x, but we need to take it home now'' and I hold out my hand in expectation. Repeat variations as necessary. If the child is too young to understand or relinquish with grace, there is probably the child's parent nearby, who can facilitate the process. --

My thoughts on bringing toys to the park: If either you or your child is likely to get truly upset (like more than a brief moment of fussing) if someone else plays with/borrows/picks up/runs around with (anything short of stealing, really) your toy, then don't bring it to a public space. If you don't mind, then bring 'em on!

I read the previous posting and frankly, I really disagree w/ the original poster and most of the respondents. It's a park, these are little (pre-talking!) kids, and her child wasn't even playing with the truck. What's the big deal? A baby took a toy from her bag and wanted to play with it? We spend so much time and effort ''teaching'' our children to share, but what are we actually modeling? Not to get all anti-capitalist here, but when we put so much importance on ownership of our objects, it's no wonder that our children scream 'MINE'! when someone picks up their toy. I do believe it's important to teach kids what's theirs and what belongs to others (''Nope, that's not your bike, sweetie!'') but I also think it's important to model gracious, relaxed sharing (''Sure, she can take a turn in our wagon!'')

The sandbox-as-life metaphor has been used time and time again to relay (cheesy but true) lessons about cooperation, sharing, and community -- I see I see taking toys to the park (and sharing them!) as part of this lesson. Sure, kids will fight over toys, and maybe even cry and get upset. It's all part of life. Write your name on 'em, make sure you get them back before you leave (if another kid is playing with the toy, approach the parent, let them know it's time for you to go, and get the toy), and have fun! Socialist Playground Mama

Here are the basics with toys at the park

1. Toys at the park are for sharing. So that ground rule does provide a good way to teach your kid to share/take turns, but of course it can cause grouchiness if you kid is not in the mood to that on a given day. If I'm going to pack toys I always pack at least two shovels (or two identical toys) to try to minimize this.

2. Write your kids' initials with a sharpie somewhere on the toys so you can easily identify which of the million shovels is yours. When it's time to go, you just have to say to the other kids who may be playing with the toys, ''Sorry, but we need those things since it's time for us to go.'' Kids are usually pretty good at relinquishing toys and parents/nannys at helping them do so.

3. Sometimes it is a drag to bring toys but on the other hand, sometimes your children will entertain themselves far longer at the park with a simple bucket and shovel so it seems worth it. Plus I don't want to be the person at the park whose kid is always playing with other people's toys but never brings any to share themselves.

First of all, put your kid's name on the sand toys. When another kid wants to use them, say you're happy to share until it's time to leave the park. When you're leaving, tell the kid/parent, ''we're leaving now so we'll be taking our truck with us, I'm glad you had fun with it!'' This models sharing, generosity, setting limits, and keeping track of belongings. ASP

Hi - I always bring toys and I just calmly and politely retrieve them when it is time to leave -- even if I must go get them from other kids -- ''sorry, we're leaving now, I need that toy back.'' I've never had any issues. Though, I never take anything to the park that I'd really hate to lose! another mom

Protocol on toys at Totland

June 2009

I was wondering if anyone knew of a protocol (official or un) about borrowing toys from Totland in Berkeley. Occasionally we play with a toy there that would be fun to take home for a few days. Is this ok? It would be great to ''check out'' a toy and not have to accumulate more stuff! I haven't done it yet, because it seems a bit like stealing when I don't have permission, and I certainly don't want to do wrong by Totland. We love it too much!! curious mama

In my opinion, people should not borrow toys from Totland. If you want to play with the toy, go to Totland! The chances of the toy coming back are pretty slim, whether or not that was the original intention. Toys should stay at Totland

I would say 'no.' People donate toys to Totland with the expectation that all kids will get to play with them, not that one child will take it home. Even if you return it, you're preventing the other kids from playing with that toy while it's at your house. I agree with the sentiment of not wanting to accumulate stuff, and some things only get played with for a few days when they're still new and novel. It would be nice to have a toy library, but my understanding is that's not Totland's role. sarah

I am not saying people don't do it, but the toys were donated to the community, for the community, by the community. With the implicit obligation to share. It seems to me that ''borrowing'' a toy is like hogging it for an expended time, which is not the point of a community that shares. It's a bit selfish. I mean if all the people that visit Totland desided to borrow one toy each that place would be empty! Sharing is a very important lesson to teach our children. We should teach them to take care of the toys and to share them. They do not belong to anyone in particular they belong to the park and thus remain with the park. I have found that Habitot in Berkeley has a great toy-lending program which is ideal for what you seek. The program allows you to choose 3 toys at a time for 3 weeks at a time with the right to renew as many times as you want. Also there are many toy stores that buy your old toys and sell used toys at discounted prices. ---Sharing momma

Leave Totland toys alone! What a bad idea...the toys are for all the kids. anon

Ummm -- imagine if everyone felt it was OK to ''borrow'' toys from Totland ''for a few days.'' All the toys would soon be ''out on loan'' and the kids wouldn't be able to play with them. If your child really enjoys a Totland toy, either take them to the park more often or buy the toy yourself. If you're worried about accumulating stuff, donate a few of your own toys to Totland after you buy the new toy for your child. Don't contribute to the tragedy of the commons.

I get where you are coming from, but I have to say that it is a really bad idea. One of the things that makes Totland such a great park is that there are so many toys for kids to play with and you can go there a lot during the week and the kids do not get bored. If everyone felt that it was okay to take toys home, then there would be no more toys at the park. How would one regulate this? Is three days okay - what about a week. What if you forgot to bring something back and then ended up going on vacation? What if you just decided that you really liked the toy and never brought it back - who would ever know? I think people donate toys there so that everyone can use them. If you want to try them out, then go to the park and use them. That way everyone can have the same opportunity. Park Lover

I'll be interested to hear the opinions on this one! I personally would consider that stealing... Imagine if every kid who came to totland ''borrowed'' a toy when they left? No more toys! I think teaching our children that the toys stay there and we don't take them home helps them learn about boundaries. -toys for all

I frequently take my daughter to Totland, which is her absolute favorite playground. I am not aware of the official protocol but must say that I would find it inappropriate for people to ''check out'' toys. I know it seems like there are lots of toys there but if many families made this a habit there would soon be little left to play with! Anon

No way! That's stealing.

its so funny you should ask this- i was just asking my husband the same thing earlier today! well, personally i think its ok. its my understanding that these toys are just dropped off at the park by parents who dont want them anymore, and that are too good for landfill but not resale worthy. i also think that totland periodically clears(throws?) them out to help there not be an overabundance of toys there... so maybe we would be helping the situation? however, the only problem i could forsee is that if this becomes an ok thing to do, then potentially there wont be any toys there when we go to play, which is why our little ones love going there so much. hmmmm. curious what other responses will be. we like the toys too!

Toy thief at neighborhood toddler park

June 2008

We live adjacent to a pocket park in Rockridge that has a small play structure and which is frequented by mainly toddlers (most days it's nanny central with kids everywhere, and it's a central gathering place for families on weekends). People have traditionally left toys like ride-on cars, buckets and shovels, etc., which the kids love. Some of us neighbors remove broken toys from time to time and buy replacements.

Unfortunately, another adjacent neighbor has recently decided he doesn't like the noise of the kids and has therefore started removing (stealing) the toys in an effort to discourage kids from coming to the park (apparently he's unfamiliar with the Grinch story...). The night before Mothers' Day, all the ride- on cars, a picnic table, basketball hoop, teeter totter, and all the buckets and shovels disappeared. We confronted the neighbor, who admitted having taken toys and refused to engage in any kind of neighborhood dialogue or try to come up with a compromise that would take all the stakeholders' interests into account. Our city council person's office said they monitor the park and do not consider the toys to be a blight; rather, they think the toys keep toddlers coming, which keeps drug dealers away.

We replaced some of the toys last week, only to have them disappear again last night - very frustrating. Has anyone dealt with something like this? Any suggestions? To top it all off, this man's family owns a very popular and successful childrens' store in Rockridge, so it's doubly ironic that he would be acting this way towards neighborhood toddlers. Feel free to email me directly.

although I don't have advice about specific procedure I would start a police report either filed by you or if possible on behalf of the neighborhood in general or at least several families. It is a theft of communal property- clearly not stuff left out on the street for free. chris

You have the answer to your own question - tell him, or better yet just leave him a note that says you will ask everyone you know, which is the thousands and thousands of parents on this list, to boycott his store until he stops stealing toys. Negotiating with him isn't going to work, because he is not being reasonable. If he doesn't want to hear kids playing, then he shouldn't live near a park. Its simple.

What a despicable neighbor! I wish I had some sage wisdom for how to deal, but I don't think there's anything that will change his mind. Has anyone mentioned the fact that drug dealers (and other criminal activities) are minimized by having the park full of kids? Does he realize, that even without the toys, the kids will still come? Anyway to set-up a ''sting'' operation and catch him in the act? An arrest might make him re-think his strategy. He should know better, moving into a house next to a park! Shame on him! I hope you can come up with solutions to fix the problem, what a rude neighbor! momma to 2 toddlers who love their local park with donated toys

If talking to the person (what a grump!!!!) isn't working, can't you just work out a plan with the other parents to put the toys safely somewhere else at night. Maybe taking shifts to go to the park at dusk and collecting the toys. I don't know if this is possible depending on how many there are, but it's an idea. Also, if you know that this particular person is taking the toys, why don't you put an identifying mark on it (return address label or something) and then call the cops on them. I know this is drastic but if all other amicable options are failing, then it may be necessary. Jessica

If you have witnesses to his admission re: stealing the community purchased toys, threaten to file a police report. Also, let the family member who owns the Rockridge toy store that you will ''out'' this anti-social behavior on community blogs if it doesn't stop and the toys aren't replaced. anonymous