I would suggest that for starters you make sure that each of your children has some toys or belongings that he or she can call their own. When children have siblings so close in age, it is normal for parents to expect them to share. All children, however, need some items that they can call their own. I would suggest looking over your children's toys and belongings and dividing them into three piles: Ling's, Cho's and items that should be shared. Make a separate basket or drawer of items that will belong exclusively to each child. Put these two drawers or baskets in two separate areas. Show your daughter where her toys can be found. If your son touches her toys, say, "No, these are Ling's toys." Obviously your son is not old enough to understand the difference between his toys and his sister's, but if you always gently guide him to "his" toys, he may naturally begin to go to them.
This does not mean that you should not encourage your children to share. Rather, every child needs some items that belong to him and that he can choose to share or not.
Of course, in every household there are some items that must be shared. Your 15-month-old is too young to understand "waiting his turn." Your 34-month-old is not. I find that a big aid in helping children learn to share and wait for a turn can be a simple kitchen timer or hourglass.
If your children fight over a certain object, quickly take out a timer and set it for say, five minutes. Give the item to one child (I usually try to give it to the child that had it first although that is not always obvious) and say, "Now it is your turn. When you hear the bell, your turn is over."
Your thirty-four-month-old is old enough to understand this process and to know that her turn is over when she hears the bell. Your fifteen-month-old will not understand this, but if you enforce the same rules with him, your daughter will feel that everyone is treated equally in the family and both she and her brother must wait for their turns and share.
Remind your daughter that she can always play with "her toys" and if your son is upset when you give an item he wants to your daughter, try and distract him quickly with some of his favorite toys. At his age, out of sight is usually out of mind, so if he doesn't calm down when you give him a different toy, suggest that your daughter play with the toy he wants in another room.
Keep in mind that despite your best efforts; there will still be times that your children will fight over their belongings. This reaction is a normal part of early childhood. By implementing the suggestions above, however, you can help your children to understand earlier, rather than later, the concepts of personal belongings and the necessity of sharing.
Esther Boylan Wolfson, MA
Director, Early Childhood Development Center