It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Sharing, sharing, sharing

Toys from home. Some daycare providers allow them, others don’t. When I first started daycare, I allowed them. Back then, my primary reference point was my own children, and I knew that kids like to show off their stuff. It’s fun to parade your special something in front of an awe-struck gathering. If that were all it was about, though, I wouldn’t have allowed it. Rubbing the other kids’ noses in My Special Something that Only I Can Touch is obnoxious and anti-social.

I never let my kids do that, and they were actually pretty good sharers. Toys in our home, with a few exceptions, were communal. Even the exceptions were mostly determined by the child’s preference. That enormous pile of Lego was Adam’s because Adam was the child who played with them most. (Hours and hours and hours.) The train set, though? Entirely communal. All three played equally.

That’s just what kids did, right? With a little bit of guidance, of course. Sharing is a challenge at first, and territoriality and selfishness need to be addressed, but it isn’t long before they figure out that it really is more fun with friends. Because that’s how it worked in our house. Easy-peasy!

So yes. Daycare kids could bring toys from home. The child would get the pleasure of showing it off, and then the more sophisticated pleasure of sharing that satisfaction, when they share the toys. Okay, so they’d have to deal with the whole “sharing” thing first, but hey! It’s fun to share with your friends!

Hahahah. Sweet, naive little Mary. (Thus proving that even three kids are not enough to make you Truly Experienced. You think you are, but you’re not…)

I hadn’t factored in three important realities:
1. My kids were not all two-year-olds at the same time.
2. My kids were siblings, and so were getting the same message re: sharing all.the.time.
3. My kids were siblings, and so had built-in sharers in their home. All.The.Time.

So, kids would bring toys to daycare and I’d be policing them all the damned time. Policing, negotiating, soothing, trying to coax compromise and unselfish behaviour. That stupid stuffed marmot that little Suzie loved so dearly became the focus of MY ENTIRE DAY.

It was exhausting. I discovered why daycare providers often disallow toys from home. Toys from home are a royal pain in the arse. Not to put too fine a point on it.

So. No toys. Enough!

Ah. The peace! The (relative) lack of conflict and strife! Lovely!

I’m not sure when and why I started allowing toys again. Probably some sweet, biddable child brought something, and I knew it would work with that child. Whatever provoked it, I came back to the other, potentially positive aspects of bringing toys from home: the practice of sharing, the cultivation of generosity, the opportunity for group play. A little Character Development!

Now, however, older, wiser, more experienced Mary has a slightly more pragmatic approach. Toys from Home offers the potential for Character Development, yes, but as any sane parent knows, toddlers (and teens) fight Character Development tooth and nail. They love their undeveloped characters. You have a problem with their character, well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? Sucks to be you, now leave me alone.

Like that. Yup.

So there are boundaries on the sharing. When a child brings a toy at the beginning of the day, they are asked, “Is this a toy you can share?” If the answer is ‘no’, then the toy is put away for the day. This is not a punitive thing, this is not expressed with anger or in a threatening tone. It’s simply fact.

“Not for sharing? Okay, then. We’ll put it in your bin for the day, and you can take it home at home-time.”

Of course, lots of kids, when faced with the disposal of their toy, will have an immediate about-face. “Oh! YES! Yes, I will share!” We all know this is a lie. They just want their toy. However, I take it at face value, and we work out how the sharing will occur.

If there’s any fuss at all when the time comes to actually share, the toy will, with no fuss on my part at all, be put away for the day. This is a one-strike-you’re-out offense.

If the owner of the toy is extremely obnoxious about the not-sharing, particularly if this is not the first time, and they understand the expectations and consequences, two things will happen:
1. The sharing will occur as laid out.
2. When everyone’s had a turn (except the possessive owner) it goes away for the day.

The one exception to this is lovies, those particularly precious toys that are needful for those particularly anxious children, or for naptime. A naptime lovie stays in the child’s bed. An anxious child can have their comfort object which does not have to be shared. However, it must be a genuine comfort object, a thing that’s used all the time, home and daycare, and has been for weeks, if not years. It may not be a different item each day. Generally speaking, a different-every-day ‘comfort object’ is merely power-tripping. “I neeeeed this! It’s mine! See how lovely it is? You can’t touch it because I neeeeed it!” A power-tripping scam.

With the one-strike-you’re-out policy, I am spared a wealth of squabbling. I still have to intervene from time to time, as I do with all the toys, but with the penalty of instant removal of the beloved object, the owner generally learns fairly quickly that if he/she wants to play with it at all, it’s in their own best interest to let it be shared.

And if they don’t, I put it away. Done.

Tantrums about this consequence are rare, but if they happen, they’re dealt with as I deal with all tantrums. By the time a child is old enough to want to bring toys to daycare, they’re usually old enough to not be throwing tantrums any more.

So, I do allow toys from home, and for the most part, it works just fine. The owner is pleased and proud of the attention they and their new toy get, and the other children are thrilled to have Something Shiny!! at daycare. Everyone shares, as best toddlers do, and it’s a lovely, communal, sharing experience. It’s all part of growing them up into the kind, considerate adults we want them to be, and I am pleased to be part of that process.

In the interests of my sanity, I reserve the right to forbid toys to a particular child for a season. I reserve the right to put a toy away without a sharing trial.

Because, for all their manifest benefits as Teaching Opportunities, toys from home really are a royal pain in the arse.

May 2, 2013 - Posted by | daycare, manners, power struggle, socializing | ,


  1. How do you deal with the sorts of toys that make obnoxious, manufactured noise all the time? I can’t bear toys that talk in a tin-man television-presenter voice, they often go mysteriously silent and a little nest of batteries forms on the top of the fridge.

    Oh, those aren’t allowed. I should have added that to the “in the interests of my sanity” paragraph. Those things have very little play value. Toys like that turn the child into their audience instead of the creator of the play. So, toys with no play value, no creativity, and annoying as heck, to boot? They get the boot. They’re put in a bag and hung from the child’s hook in the front hall instantly. Ugh.

    Comment by May | May 2, 2013 | Reply

  2. “They love their undeveloped characters. You have a problem with their character, well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? Sucks to be you, now leave me alone.”


    My 18 month old is in the midst of a character development. His six year old brother was home on school holidays for two and a half weeks. At home, every day, TOUCHING HIS TOYS…..HUGGING HIS MUM…..SITTING IN HIS CHAIR….and any other number of apparently annoying things, that he must PROTEST VERY LOUDLY!!!! Usually with an alien screech that I cannot abide, or sometimes a well aimed swipe at his brothers head.

    He’s been undergoing some intense character development. Hopefully he “develops” soon.

    Comment by Tammy | May 2, 2013 | Reply

  3. Your comment about lovies surprised me. One of my boys never had any (unless you count me.. but that’s another story). The other had a rotating cast of “fav’rit” animals. Each day he picked one to go to daycare. And he really needed it. He’s now switched to a “new” one as an all time favorite. Although I do suspect that he’s using his hat or his one fav’rit glove as an safety blanket-equivalent: he’ll pick one and wear it all day!

    Comment by neuro | May 3, 2013 | Reply

  4. We must be terribly cruel in our house! 🙂 “Lovies” don’t, and never have left the house. Unfortunately my older daughter chose two toys to love equally passionately, both of which are unique and therefore irreplaceable – so they stay at home. It’s a rule that’s been in place since before the older one could talk, so there’s never been any debate. They aren’t in daycare, so the issue of taking lovies for sleeping with has never come up, but I guess we would pick something that *just* stays at daycare. I lost my very favourite teddy on a foreign holiday as a child, and swore it wouldn’t happen to my kids, so precious toys are housebound!

    Comment by Angie | May 4, 2013 | Reply

  5. Our son has his soother and a blankie. We have a daycare blankie and a home blankie. I refused to be trying to figure out how to get him to sleep if we forgot blankie at school one day. The only time blankie leaves the house is for long car rides (where there will be sleeping at the other end in a different house). Daycare won’t allow him to have his soother/school blankie unless it’s nap time. But he’s not an overly anxious child either, so no excuse. I think your rules are perfect! I’m going to come up with something similar for when I’m home on maternity leave this year and organizing play dates. Sharing is hard when you’re little, but it doesn’t mean I can’t help make it happen and be fun too.

    Comment by Cindy | May 7, 2013 | Reply

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