My sweet, darling baby boy has learned the words “NO!” and “UUGH!” and “MINE!”

To his credit, he applies them appropriately. Just at inappropriate times.

Each of my children have gone through this phase. I call it the this-is-mine-and-I-want-whatever-you-have-in-your-hand phase. If I’m chewing gum he can smell it. He’s like a blood hound. He points to my mouth and shouts, “MINE!” until I shove the ABC gum between his 12 small teeth. Drinking an ice cold soda? Not anymore.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson with the other three. I just don’t know how to avoid this unpleasant chapter of toddlerhood. Case in point: “Oh, would you like a bite of this cookie I’m enjoying? Let me break off a piece for you. Here you go.”

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Rookie mistake. My toddlers want the whole thing. The paltry scrap is an insult. “NOOO!” they howl and bat it away. If it’s close to nap time, they do the back arch with an upper cut. The ol’ one, two.

It’s during moments like these I think to myself, “What have I created? What has happened to my little cherub? How do I teach gratitude to a 25 pound thrashing spaghetti noodle?”

There are no easy answers. Tough love, ignoring it, ugly confrontations. I’ve used all of the above. But the most effective and long term approach I’ve found is praising like crazy the moments of generosity and sweetness. When my one year old shares a pretzel with me, I go haywire with excitement. If he offers me a hug after bonking my head with his red rubber ball, he gets hugged back ten-fold.

The best part about this approach is the dividends. Even after all of our tussles and tiffs, at the end of the day, when it’s time for lullabies in the rocking chair, my tuckered out bambino snuggles in close and sighs into my chest, “nigh-nigh. I wuv-u.”

That’s when I pull him in even closer and whisper, “Mine.”

Margaret Anderson is a BYU graduate, freelance journalist, and mother of four small children. You can read more on her blog at www.jamsandpickles.wordpress.com