How do I stand up for my toddler at the playground?

Dr. Laura,

I have a question. Something happened at the playground today and this may seem minor to some people, but handling these types of situations is new to me now that my 2 year old is socializing more. 

 She was at the sand box and realized someone left the community shovel that they use at the other side of the park. She walked all the way over to the other side of the park to get it. When she returned to the sandbox, another 2 1/2 yr old boy took it from her before she had a chance to use it. The mom didn't intervene and I feel awkward "parenting" someone else's kid. My 2 year old looked to me for guidance, but I wasn't sure how to handle it so I didn't say anything. I found a pail and offered it to my daughter to see if she wanted to scoop sand with that instead. She didn't of course. 

So I said, "We'll let Oliver have a turn and then you can have a turn." So Oliver had a turn, then Aurora was able to get her hands on it after he'd thrown it to the ground. Then as soon as she picked it up, he grabbed it again. Again, the Mom was right there but didn't say anything. In the car I explained that sometimes she'll come across people who don't share and that sometimes can be mean. And that it was nice of her to let Oliver have the shovel. But part of me is crushed thinking I should have stuck up for her and let her know that it's ok to not let people walk all over her. 

What to do in this situation so I know for next time?

Thank you!

I'm so sorry you were in this position and now feel bad about how you handled it. I remember having moments like that, too, when my first child was little. So don't dwell on it -- that's how we learn what to do next time, and you're reaching out for help. There is no right answer, and I am sure other parents may have other answers, but here's a possible course of action: 

As soon as Oliver grabs the shovel and Aurora looks to you for guidance, you can move in close, smile at them both and start describing the situation. "Aurora had the shovel....she walked over to get it and brought it back....then Oliver took the shovel...Aurora, you look surprised." Then, you could give her explicit permission to ask for what she wants. "Aurora, you can ask Oliver for the shovel back. Say 'I was using that. Give it back, please.'" 

Then, you smile at Oliver and say "It's Aurora's turn right now....Do you want the pail while you wait for your turn with the shovel?" 

Of course, he might not hand over the shovel. He might ignore you. In that case, you can do what you actually did in this situation, and say "Oliver isn't ready to give the shovel back....We'll let Oliver have a turn and then you can have a turn.....Oliver, will you give the shovel to Aurora when you're done?" He will probably agree, and he might even give it to her. 

If he doesn't, though, and just loses interest, then I would recommend staying right with her in the sandbox after she gets her hands back on it, and the minute Oliver grabs it again, you could put your hand on the shovel, smile at Oliver and say "It's Aurora's turn now....She went to get the shovel and gave you the first turn....now it is her turn....Here, it is your turn to use the pail, Oliver." Virtually all kids will let go of it at that point.

As you can see, most of standing up for your child is modeling for her how she can stand up for herself.

Good luck!
Dr. Laura

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