Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Dear Dr. Debbie


I’m the nanny of 18 month-old boy-girl twins. Recently they’ve begun snatching toys from each other, or breaking down in tears if one sees the other twin playing with something.

Should I make them share?



Dear Nanny,

A normal stage of social-emotional development starts around 18 months and usually lasts until three or three and a half years. Once a toddler is steady on her feet, she literally “moves” from sharing your identity/mood/ body space to becoming her own person. She may still see no reason not to use your keyboard, your car keys, your shoes or your cell phone, as she sees you doing, but she’s also enjoying inventing play themes of her own. Soon she discovers that other toddlers are doing things she might like to do. We call it “parallel play” because it seems to be that as long as two toddlers can be on identical paths, and not cross, they are perfectly content. This works, basically, if there are either NO objects or two IDENTICAL objects so they can see themselves in the other child. Put on some lively music and everyone dances. But if one child discovers a tambourine, there had better be enough for all.

Most of the time, preventing a squabble is as easy as controlling the environment so that there is nothing to squabble over – plenty of chances to imitate without conflict.

However, toddlers also have other issues.

Attention from the caregiver is very important at this age. They forget about you if there’s a tempting cupboard to explore, but as soon as a need arises – a little hunger, a little fatigue, a toy just out of reach – they need you desperately.

Their patience also wanes when the two-year-old molars start pushing, when they fail at making words to get their needs met, when they’re impeded from one of their too-big ideas (like using your cell phone), or when there are any changes to the daily routine. Adequate rest is an essential part of the daily routine and can upset everything else if not addressed.


Try to bear with this stage of social interaction that precedes the ability to understand that the other person has needs and feelings. Three and four-year-olds are ready for help with actual sharing. Meantime, music and gym classes for toddlers, and play groups and play dates work well if all the adults help the children to imitate each other. When you’re outnumbered as you are, it is indeed a challenge to be the advocate for both.


Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

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