Children can be possessive for a number of reasons, particularly during the toddler "it's mine" stage. Signs of possessiveness include:
- Unwilling to share toys
- Unwilling to share a parent, both parents, or a favorite friend
- Possessiveness over a new sibling
- Possessiveness over a space or favorite part of a room or setting
- Bossing around or cutting out other kids from playtime or other activities
If your child is possessive during the toddler years, it's up to us as parents to not only deal with this developmental stage but to also encourage how to share and when perhaps not to share depending on where your parenting views fall when it comes to sharing. However, a child can be possessive either during or not during the toddler years for a variety of reasons, such as divorce, a move, a new school, the loss of a parent or loved one, the birth of a new sibling, and other reasons. Here are a few situations that may make your child show the green jealousy eye rather frequently.
For my daughter, my divorce shook her world when we first separated. She was only 3, and she became very possessive over me if we went to the park and other kids wanted to join us, and she also became possessive over close friends. It's common for kids her age to not want to share toys, but she struggled with sharing a favorite friend. If another friend wanted to join in, it would upset her because she feared she would lose her friend like she did her family. For children of divorce, they are forced quickly to share time with their parents and between two homes, so it is not uncommon for a child to then struggle with sharing anything, like a favorite friend or you, his or her parent. Don't be surprised also if when spending time with other families that your child may show the green eye. It is hard to see families together while you are adjusting to yours being apart, and the younger the child, the less able they are to share these thoughts.
Some kids gleefully gush over a new baby and may not want to share the baby with you or other relatives, but more common is the child who has to learn to adjust to sharing that spotlight with a little brother or sister. Don't be surprised when your child struggles to share anything, even a spoon or your lap after the new baby arrives for a little while. Your child may also transfer this jealousy to school time and school friends.
When you move somewhere new, you always bring some of the old with you — but not all of the old! Saying goodbye to your former home is difficult for anyone, including children. A move and relocation can make your child become possessive over the toys or space he or she has because of the adjustment. A move can make things feel less stable and secure, and any threat to a child's security can cause behavioral issues, even if it's not a threatening situation, like a move.
Loss of a Parent or Loved One
Losing a loved one or parent can make a child feel as if his or her world is literally shattered, which may or may not cause a child to feel particularly possessive and worried about losing another parent or loved one. If a child becomes clingy or protective over someone after this experience, it's understandable.
How Do You Help Your Child?
When this happens, what can you do to help your child ditch some of the possessiveness? Try:
- Telling your child at least one item he or she doesn't have to share.
- Setting aside special time for your child with you or his/her favorite loved one so as to decrease the need to feel "possessive" over this person.
- Recognize this behavior typically comes from a lack of security. Rebuilding and working on the issues that upended that security will help your child. Perhaps play therapy is something you should consider in the case of the loss of a loved one or a divorce.
- Patience: in due time and with love and redirection, this phase will end as your child feels more secure.
- Encourage taking turns when it comes down to possessiveness of an object, space, or task.
- Illustrate by example: I always showed photos of me and my group of friends doing things together to my daughter to encourage her desire to share a favorite friend. I told her "the more, the merrier sometimes" and led by inviting people to spend time with us so she learned how to share me — yet I also gave her plenty of one-on-one time.
Most ugly or stressful phases in our children's lives pass, especially as possessiveness is a developmental stage that all kids hit as toddlers. Having patience, modeling proper social behaviors, and making our little ones feel secure are the right ways to handle this particular behavior issue!