My toddler boys want to “trade” “trade” and “fair trade” ALLLLL day.

They are too young to understand empathy but they certainly understand modeling others’ behavior and the concept of getting something in return.

The toddler trading system

· If you are holding one toy and your sibling hands you another toy, you must give up the first toy. You cannot keep two items.

· All items must be traded with a 1:1 value, even if you disagree with this assigned value.

· If your sibling is trying to hand you something and you don’t want to trade, run away. If they chase you, put your arms behind your back so that they can’t hand you anything. If this doesn’t work resort to pushing, shoving and whining (all parties).

· The snatch and run is a more effective strategy than chasing. 

·  It’s best to insist on trading when your sibling has literally the exact same sippy cup – same brand, same color, water from the same sink.

· It’s best to insist on trading when it’s clear that your sibling is having a great time playing with the red firetruck. Clearly it MUST be better than the one you have. Is it the same as the one you have? Don’t care.

Who establishes such rules? No idea. But they are real.

Putting the system into action

Sometimes when we’re playing outside both boys will be holding pinecones (we’re going green in the toy department) and suddenly they NEED to trade pinecones. I just don’t get it.

Why is one pinecone better than the other? I just don’t know.

And sometimes they are both super excited to trade. A true win-win! Everyone is getting such a deal.

And other times, no. One pinecone is definitely more valuable than the other. But, reference toddler trading system above, all items must be traded 1:1, even if you disagree with this assigned value. A clear win-lose.

And I have no idea what sort of valuation methodologies are being used here. I haven’t been able to crack it. But I can tell you that the car book is worth more than the hippopotamus book.

5x pinecone = car book??? Did I just unlock a super-secret toddler code…could pinecones be their version of EBITDA multiples?

How did we get here?

I’ve read that it’s good to encourage trading. It’s apparently a good alternative for kids who are in “sharing situations” but aren’t old enough to understand sharing yet.

So encourage, I did.

I work in M&A; I’m excited that my boys are learning how to work together and negotiate, especially since they are going to be spending a lot of time sharing things for years and years to come. More sharing than I wish they had to, just because they happen to be the exact same age (we’re talking 30 seconds here).

But there’s something my boys don’t quite understand. I’ve tried to explain that for every deal that goes through, there are many more that don’t. That many potential investors look at your teaser, yet only one buys.

Not everyone wants the same thing.

This concept is one that’s going to take a little more time.

But how much time?

This toddler trading predicament has reminded me that…

…as adults, often we still aren’t sure what we want and still fail to acknowledge the value of what we are getting and giving up when we make choices.

Sometimes we want the same thing as other people and then the price, competition and amount of effort required increases exponentially. But does that really make it better? Just because other people want it, is it really better, or is it just a case of the shiny red firetruck that someone else loves playing with?

If you really love it – go for it. Put in the hours, save up the money, go get your shiny red firetruck.

Yet sometimes what we want isn’t the same as what other people want. But does that make it inherently less valuable? I think not.

It means that you get a DEAL! That elusive WIN-WIN.

And I do still believe in the win-win ?

It’s important to really take time to recognize the things that we want, even if they aren’t the same things that everyone else wants.

Sometimes observing the choices that others make is like watching toddlers execute trades.

· Sometimes you know they are just chasing a shiny object.

· Sometimes you can tell that it’s worth the blood, sweat and tears.

· Sometimes you have no idea why they want something, but they enjoy it and are happy with the choices they’ve made.

We experience fulfillment and joy from different sources.

There’s great beauty in that. There’s nothing more inspiring than witnessing people achieving THEIR dreams.

Just like there’s nothing more pleasant than watching the pinecone trade when both boys’ faces light up because they are getting the other pinecone, the one that’s just right for them.

So stop worrying about what everyone else will think about your decision or worse, stop changing your dreams to mirror the dreams of others.

Go find the pinecone that’s just right for you.


  • Leslie Michel

    Founder & Meditation Guide

    Embody Alive

    As founder and meditation guide, Leslie Michel has worked with Fortune 500 execs, busy moms and dads, cancer survivors, children and hundreds of people just like you. Leslie invites you to help make the world a more peaceful place - one meditation at a time.