“Mine! That’s mine!”

If you have a toddler in the house, you’re probably hearing that phrase quite often, perhaps even about things that don’t belong to your child. Although this experience can be frustrating, know that this is a normal part of toddler development — something that usually kicks in around 18 months old. Research, meanwhile, shows that for children aged 2 and 4, they often believe that the first person who possesses an item is the owner. That’s why you may hear, “But I had it first!”

According to an expert quoted by Parents.com, this possessiveness demonstrates how your child is learning that a person can have an “invisible tie to a thing,” which is a key step in his or her development. Having said that, if you specifically tell GettyImages-1125881895 (1)toddlers what items belong to them — and which ones don’t — they can process that information. In experiments, toddlers were shown identical toys and told which ones belonged to them. Even when the toys were shuffled, they could keep track of what items had been given to them.

On the one hand, being possessive is a natural part of being a toddler. On the other hand, there are ways to make this stage easier, and here are tips to guide you through these toddler milestones.

First, clearly explain the rules. It’s a normal part of toddler development for your child to try to figure out what’s right and wrong. When there’s a dispute over toys, it can help to say, “That stuffed animal toy is yours. The truck isn’t.”

It’s also important to acknowledge your toddler’s feelings of ownership and not insist that he or she share special items, such as favorite stuffed animals and toys, when other children come over to play. You wouldn’t want a stranger to pick up your phone or purse, right?

The same is true for toddlers. It’s especially true with a toddler’s absolute favorite object, perhaps a blanket. This object represents strong feelings of ownership and love that the toddler has for other important things, including people. It’s not something to be shared or parted with because it comforts the child and it’s something he or she has control over.

When the toddler senses control over that particular object, they may become more willing to share other items.

Here’s another consideration: If a treasured item is not within the child’s sight, he or she may shout “Mine!” just to verify that the object still exists. This possessiveness may be coming from a fear that the object will never be returned. In that case, it can help to reassure your child that a toy isn’t gone for good—even if, for example, someone else took it into another room.

Learning to share is one of the important toddler milestones, but it’s important to recognize that the process is gradual. It involves the child learning that objects are permanent, even if they’re out of sight. It also involves the child gaining a positive feeling of ownership and developing the sense of empathy required to experience pleasurable sharing.

TodaysParent.com also offers suggestions on how to help toddlers along that process. One recommendation is rather than taking a toy from one toddler and giving it to another and saying that it’s important to share, talk about taking turns.

In the first scenario, where an adult takes an object from one person and gives it to another, the message learned can be that it’s OK to grab something from someone else. By discussing taking turns, a toddler is more likely to agree to sharing the object.

Ultimately, an expert quoted in this article says, the process of toddler development and sharing just takes patience, noting that “possession, ownership, sharing and lending are complex social interactions that are beyond the brainpower of most toddlers” and adding that this challenging stage won’t last forever. Given time will become less territorial and more likely to share.

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