Vocabulary - There are a few things I say over and over and over again. Yes, it gets old. But its helpful to use the same language, especially when the kids are very young. It helps them make the association that taking a ball away from someone and taking a train are the same action and will have similar consequences. I use "take, trade and turns." As in, "Don't take" and "It is not nice to take, you can see if he wants to trade, or you can wait your turn." We started this when my second was barely a week old. Anytime my oldest was playing with something and his brother was in the room I would ask him to share. So he would set one of his trains on the baby blanket and play with the rest, and when he decided that he wanted that particular train back I would remind him that he couldn't just grab a toy that someone else had, he needed to trade him for something else. It was helpful that the baby couldn't focus more than 12 inches, let alone care which toy train was sitting near him; but it set up the pattern, and that was what we were going for.
Alternatives - Inevitably there are some specific toys that my kids don't want to share. Usually something new, like a birthday present. And that's fine. They shouldn't have to share everything. But it's hard for the other kids, too. Because new is cool and they want to see. So if they have something they don't want to share, they don't have to, but they don't get play with it in front of everyone else either. Thats just rude. So the toy gets put away, and they can play with it when they are alone or when they decide to share.
Rules - At our house if you put something down and walk away, you can't get mad if someone else picks it up and plays with it. You can ask for it back, but the other person doesn't have to give it to you. If you don't want anyone else to have it, you have to put it safely away in your bed. [Each kid has a bin or box at the foot of their beds for special toys and things]
|You want to trade me the green train for the blue one?|
I don't know.....
No one is ever allowed to grab something out of someone else's hands. Not even me. So even if one kid has taken a toy and needs to give it back, I don't physically touch the toy. I have been known to grab a toddler before she runs out of the room and hold her on my lap. Then I tell her she can't keep a toy that she took from someone's hand and she has to give it back. I will even guide her elbow to help her give back the toy, but she has to do it herself.
There are two important reasons to do it this way. One, is that I need my kids to get used to obeying my voice, not physical force. For safety reasons alone, they need to react to my voice. Also, it doesn't take too long before I can't physically force them anyway. Kids are strong little suckers and there is nothing more difficult than trying to wrestle a stolen toy away from an uncooperative toddler while 8 months pregnant at a play group while you are trying to make a good first impression. (Not that I know from experience with that one or anything.)
The second reason is that it keeps the kids from getting into physical fights when I'm not there. We've been doing this for so long now that only the two-year-old ever grabs toys from someone's hand, and the older ones never even try to grab it back. They scream, or tell her no, or come get me, but we don't have any out-and-out brawls over toys ever. [More on our "no hitting" policy to come]
Consequences - I set a timer if the kids need to take turns with something, but sometimes not even that works. On those occasions, the toys simply get taken away. I say, "If it isn't fun, you don't have to play with it. And we will find something else to do." And then nobody gets it. The top of the fridge is a great place to put toys into time out because the kids can still see them, but can't reach. I also put things in the top of my closet if it is going to be gone for a long time. Sometimes the kids are sent to different rooms to play by themselves. At this point, they don't usually see that as a punishment, and it isn't meant to be, just a way to make sure our home is more peaceful.
The majority of sibling rivalry centers around the sharing of stuff and space. And it is understandable that kids will fight sometimes, but they can be taught to share and coexist peacefully (most of the time).