A Time for Cooperation

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One reason why these toddler friendships aren't readily apparent: Two-year-olds engage mainly in what experts call parallel play; that is, they play next to, but not necessarily with, each other. Many early play behaviors also take the form of parallel imitation: A child watches another playing with a toy and then wants to repeat the experience.

This offers a partial explanation for why "No, mine!" may be the most frequently heard phrase at any toddler gathering. Another reason for tiffs over toys: Two-year-olds are notoriously egocentric. They find it difficult-or impossible-to see another point of view. Since the concepts of me and mine are linked closely to a child's budding sense of self-esteem, it's best to take a gentle approach to conflicts over sharing. If several children are fighting over one toy, simply put it away and help them to move on to another diversion.

By the time your child reaches age 2 1/2 to 3, you can start introducing the concept of turn taking in ways that are easily understood. Say, for example, "Sarah can play with the doll for five minutes, and then it's Emily's turn." Use a kitchen timer to help your child gain an appreciation of the length of the time limit imposed.

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