Thursday, May 18, 2006

Play arbiter

When I dropped Sam off at nursery the other day, it took a while to distract him enough that I could slip out. When the distraction came, it was in the form of cars--which he promptly began fighting over with another child. I wanted to intervene and make him play fair, but I didn't want to insert myself back into the situation since I was trying to leave unnoticed. I mentioned that there were some sharing issues to one of the nursery leaders who responded, "Oh, we just let the kids work things out for themselves." I chuckled and then realized she was serious. One year olds? For themselves? Are you insane? On reflection, I could see the wisdom in this. I can't be there all the time to enforce truth and justice among the toddlers, and therefore he's going to have to learn the people skills to resolve disputes with his peers. I just didn't expect it to come so early. But, I guess, why not?

So, today when I was in the library and Sam kept stealing a toy from another child, my inclination was to intervene. The kid's mother didn't seem to mind, and the kids worked it out. But I realized I get annoyed when other parents don't intervene. When one kid bullies another, are we supposed to stand back and let them sort it out for themselves? I think I would err on the side of making Sam too nice--not stand up for himself. I would make him share with others, but never demand that they share with him. And this is equally inappropriate.

So, does anyone have advice for this clueless dad on how to be a toddler arbiter?

13 comments:

Christine said...

I'm all for letting the kids work it out. It's surprising how often they manage it all on their own. Of course, if someone is in physical danger, then you have to intervene.

There was a great program on PBS about understanding and raising boys, but a lot of it applied to children in general. In the program, they visited a Japanese daycare where the teachers take a very hands-off approach to the kids' social interaction. From very early on the kids learned how to deal with a wide variety of social issues, everything from helping younger kids learn how to do things, to fending off bullies. It was impressive. Worth taking a look at if you can find the program.

That's my two cents, anyway.

B said...

That's about sums up my "advice" as well.
I have a daughter and a couple neices who are having a difficult time dealing with the "work it out between yourselves" method because we as parents had a hard time being hands off when they were younger (they are 3,4 and 5 now). We were always trying to broker peace and fairness, and now they can't seem to do it for themselves. But I guess it's part of the learning process for both kids and parents.

I do agree that theime to intervene is when children are being injured

Tarimisu said...

Christine, that's exactly the program I was thinking of when I read this post! It was such an insightful show. At one point, one of the children was bullied, and all the kids rallied to his aid and just told him not to play with the bully! They were saying things like, "You know that's just the way he is!" And mind you, these kids are about 4-5 years old or so. I was amazed at that tv show. I do agree, Coach, and think that our first inclination is to have our children be nice to one another, etc., and of course we should instill those things. But it's also important to learn conflict resolution, though I guess I had not thought about what age, exactly, that ought to begin. If Eliza or Molly is acting mean to another kid, I want to pull them off and discipline. If another kid is being mean to one of mine, I want to pull that kid off too! This a great post, Coach. Within the family, I have started letting the girls work things out, now that Molly is talking a lot more. It's interesting to watch the dynamic at the different developmental stages (Eliza already has empathy / Molly is just now acquiring it, but it is still pretty ego-centric), but usually one of them ends up walking away at some point, and then the other one will just lose interest in whatever it was they were fighting about. I'll be interested to read the advice of others. I'm always looking for parenting advice!

Mark said...

I appreciate the wisdom of letting children work things out, but I think verbal reminders are also appropriate with children of Sam's age. I think we can over-police children to get them to comply with the "rules of polite society" and make everyone cranky and tired in the process, but occasional gentle coaching helps toddlers to learn what those rules are.

It is interesting and heartbreaking to see Denver get bullied a little by one of his younger cousins (not your child Chris). Denver has learned to share, but the cousin is still learning, so Denver backs down sooner in the face of conflict.

Shana said...

The other day at playgroup, a little boy pretty much yanked a foot-to-floor ride on right out from under poor Denver. Bending over backwards to keep the peace, I called Denver over and suggested he let "so and so" have a turn instead of letting him duke it out and work it out. Later that night as I fell asleep, the terrible thought came to me that in a round about way I had just told Denver that the other kid was more important than my own son. Of course, I don't feel this way at all about the other kid, but it's the message that was sent. "Yeah, let the kid yank a toy away ad assault you, but whatever you do, don't fight back." Denver was hurt and also treated unfairly, but I encouraged him to walk away from the scene so as not to upset anyone else, or their parents. He really had every right to make a fuss and reclaim what was rightfully his.

Like Mark also mentioned, Denver also has a cousin that is a terrible bully and is having a very hard time learning to share. Denver has learned it's better to give in to the kid than have him scream and throw what can sometimes be a very violent temper tantrum. But I sometimes wonder, if we let those two work it out and let Denver stand up for his rights, maybe the cousin would learn to share sooner and perhaps Denver wouldn't get taken advantage of so often.

Anyway, I'm afraid I've intervened too much on my kids' behalf, too many times. I really think it's alright to let even one year olds work out their issues and like Bethany said, only intervene when someone is being hurt. We apply the same rule to tattling and it seems to be a pretty good one. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I have a plaque on my frig that says "Motherhood is not for sissies". I'm sure the same applies for fatherhood as well. Words of prophets give us some guidelines: "Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves." ..."ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another...but ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another." Also, to use "persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, pure knowledge...Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the HOly Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem him to be his enemy. That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death." Maybe this has more to do with disciplining than interceding, but to me they are similar. I like something called The ONe Minute Scolding. It begins when you have seen your child do something that needs correcting, perhaps immediately, perhaps later if circumstances suggest. You snuggle that child and tell them many things that you love about them, that you have seen them do well. Then you tell them what you saw that needs correcting, and just what was wrong with what they did. Then together you decide what they should have done, and they practice it the right way for a few seconds. (For example, if they hit someone, you might practice touching others gently.) Then you end with expressing again how much you love them and have confidence that they can choose correctly the next time. It begins and ends with an outpouring of love. Sometimes parents need to intercede on behalf of big kids, not just little ones; for example with a ScoutMaster who uses too much physical in-your-face management, or a teacher who wants your kid out of the advanced science class because he can't spell, or someone is called the black sheep of the family by a teacher. I do believe that children can resolve their own differences without inferference quite often. Sometimes I offered to be a referee to my kids, but they would then assure me that they could resolve things themselves. With hindsight, I wish I had interceded on behalf of my kids more often than times I wish I hadn't. Pray for guidance and listen to the promptings you receive. Y'all are super! Mom

Taffy said...

For one year olds taking turns can be hard. I found helping the kids count to ten or twenty and then switching turns helped a lot. Not only are you teaching sharing and people skills, but math as well. (I've had several people wonder how my 1 and 2 year olds could count so well.) Anyway, I guess the main point is that you can teach children how to work things out on their own. You don't have to jump right in and put an end to things but just give guidance or reminders on how to handle situations.

Coach said...

I feel like I grew up as a pacifist. I really was a peacemaker and a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. But somewhere along the way I realized that I had needs that were as important as others and that being deferential in every situation is not appropriate. So, now that I'm a parent I don't know exactly where the line is and I sure appreciate everyone's excellent words of wisdom.

Ree said...

I have really appreciated this post, Coach. It has been very thought provoking for me. I think my instincts are similar to yours--I tend to over-manage my children in their social difficulties. I would like to let them work it out on their own more. But I have this script in my head of what that should sound like, and somehow, my children have not perfected that dialog. (Imagine that)

Anyway, tonight, I overheard some parents at the playground encouraging their children to work things out with another child. Here is a paraphrase: "A boy pushed you? Well don't cry, just push him back." This was surprising enough to hear from one mother's mouth, but ten minutes later I heard similar counsel to a different boy from a different parent! So let's have our kids work it out on their own--with violence.

Anonymous said...

Hear, Hear, on so many things folks are saying. There is no Right Answer Always for every situation, and we as parents should be pleading in prayer every day for wisdom to face intricate and mercurial challenges.
One thing that's worked (muchofhtetime...cough, cough,...) is when the squabble involves a toy or other desirable object we swoop in and put the toy in time-out. It was helping people be unkind, so it needs to be put away. Bad toy. The toy may come out in x number of minutes and try again to help people be happy.
Anita

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