Q&A: preemptive NOOOOOOOOs from a 22-month-old

Susan writes:

"My daughter is almost 22 months old.  Lately (for about a month or so)she has adopted what I call the preemptive no.  Basically, she yells "NNNNOOOOOO DADDY, BOB, BLUEDOG,ETC" when approached by anyone.  My assumption is that she is warning other people (or our dog) not to touch her stuff.  I am troubled by two things:  the frequency and the planning that goes into it.  Within the last week, she has started talking to herself about it.  So, if I say X is coming over to play, she says NOO X, NOOO X, over and over.  By the time her friend arrives, she is in a frenzy.  On the other hand, if I say "Do you want X to come over and play?" She says yes and gets excited.

My husband and I can and do ignore it.  If she says NOOOO DADDY when my husband comes home from work, he just walks into the other room and doesn't approach her until she talks to him nicely.  I often tell her I can't hear you when you talk that way, tell me what you really mean.  Her friends (peers?) can't ignore her though.  And truthfully, it's embarrassing. 

I know that this is a real anxiety for her, and I want to help her deal with it without upsetting her.  I have tried talking to her a lot about sharing, but that just results in A LOT MORE of her talking to her self about not letting her friends touch things.  She responds well to timeouts for other "transgressions" like hitting or repeatedly touching things she knows are off limits.  I don't feel like this is the place for timeout though.  It's not a behavior I'm dealing with, it's an anxiety (I think).  She can make sentences in her own little way, so I've been trying to teach her to say "please don't touch, X."  She'll say this a few times to herself, but it always ends up in NNNNOOOOO X!!!

How do I deal with this?  Do you think this is an anxiety around "Her Stuff" or something else?  Could it be the "my mind is starting to work really well and I can now think two thoughts at a time and I can't deal with them both" period in her life?  Do I ignore it when she screams NNNOOOO at random kids and dogs on the street or at the playground?  Do I ask my friends to ignore it when she screams at their kids?  That seems unfair.  Do I just go with what my bff told me--to be glad that she has foresight and predicting skills--and assume she'll learn how to use them to a better end soon enough?"

Which was interesting enough. Then she added:

"Another behavior I forgot to mention that goes with the whole question is this:
She "practices or rehearses" giving a toy to a friend.  She says "Here you go X" and holds it out.  I say do you want to give your book to X?  And she says NNNOOOO!  She also actually carries this activity out, offering various toys to people and then snatching them away and yelling no."

Now, I can't figure out exactly if this is solely about sharing or not. But if it is, I completely sympathize with the toddler here. I hate sharing.

Yes, I said it:

I hate sharing.

If you think about it, sharing is kind of scary and weird. Why should anyone be expected to give something they have and enjoy to someone else, just because the other person wants it? Little kids are required, all the time, to stop playing with what they've been playing with, and just hand the toy over to another kid for no valid reason.

Can you imagine if adults had to operate under these rules? You could be eating dinner at a restaurant with your partner, and someone could come up and grab your tofu cutlet off your plate, say "Thanks!" and walk off. And then someone else could come up and grab your partner, say "Thanks!" and drag him or her away, too. And then you'd walk out to the parking lot to go home, hungry and alone, and someone else could come up, snatch your keys out of your hand, and borrow your car. And you wouldn't even be allowed to cry about it as you walked home alone, because "sharing is good for you."

I especially hate the way we push kids into it, and think there's something wrong with them or us (we're raising antisocial barbarians!) if our 18-month-olds don't voluntarily share at the playground or playgroups. Yes, we want to help our kids learn that it's good to let other people take turns with toys if we''re not using them, and that breaking your cookie in half and giving part to your brother will make him feel good without making you feel bad. But there are better ways of doing that than demanding that your child fork over a toy or something else they really like, without any say in it.

So I'm pretty much on the side of property rights here, and think I might try saying a preemptive NOOOOOO whenever someone tries to take *my* stuff.

But back to Susan's situation: I think it sounds like your daughter is stressed out about other kids touching or playing with her stuff. There is NOTHING wrong with that, and she shouldn't be forced to share anything at all that she doesn't feel comfortable with. She's still got a long time to work on it, so putting feelings above (perhaps developmentally inappropriate) principles isn't going to ruin anything.

Depending on how good her receptive language is, you could do one of the following: When other kids are coming over, talk ahead of time about which toys she *doesn't* want them to be able to touch, and take those toys and hide them in her room. Make sure she's OK with letting the other kids touch the toys she leaves out.

Or, if she's not quite ready for that, stop having playdates in your daughter's space for awhile. Go to other kids' houses, or to neutral locations (like the library or playground or someplace like that). Don't bring along any of her own toys for her to play with (and end up having to share). Talk with her about the fact that no one will touch anything that's hers.

I think this will ease some of the pressure of playdates. As for the random shouting at people and animals she doesn't know, my guess is that as she's not forced to share as much --which is clearly causing big stress for her--those outbursts will lessen, too.

I'm betting that in another six months or so she might be better ready to experiment with "taking turns," the younger, less-scary version of sharing. And then as she sees that that's fine, she can start to have more positive forays into full-on sharing. But don't be surprised if she grows up to be an adult woman who still hates sharing. There are plenty of us out there. ;)

Readers? Whaddaya got? Has anyone else had a child who was just too stressed by sharing to be able to conform at an early age? How did you work through it?