Policies That Work Well When Children Get Together
If and when you and your child join or set up a play group, or get together with other families, it helps to have the parents agree on policies for handling the inevitable issues of
- aggressive behavior
- withdrawn behavior
- squabbles over possession
If you have discussed and agreed on policies, then you and the other parents involved have the chance to support each other more fully when upsets arise. It's hard to make good decisions when feelings are high, and we parents tend to blame each other for our children's "off track" behavior. These agreements get the basic decisions made before the upsets come along.
Here are some suggestions about policies on these issues, and the reasoning behind them:
Incidents like the parent leaving for a moment to answer the phone, take a rest-room break, or leaving for several hours.
The parent should tell the child, from infancy onward, about any absence she takes, however short. The child can be told where the parent is going, and for how long.
If the child feels sad, the parent sets the child up with another supportive adult while she's gone. That person listens to the child and reassures him until the parent returns.
This policy gives children the information they need to understand their environment. (Even infants need to be spoken to as if they understand the words we say: they do understand much sooner than we realize.) It also gives them respect while they are processing their feelings around separation. The listener gives the child warmth, closeness, and the safety to express deep feelings without adult disapproval or worry. The crying that children do at these times helps them express their love, and slowly but surely, it frees them from holding feelings of fear about the next separation.
Incidents like a child pushing another child, biting, giving unwanted hugs or kisses.
After the play group has met a time or two, all the parents will have noted the children who act aggressively when they are scared.
It needs to be clear which parents, if not all, will be "safety managers" for the children. Those parents need to pay close attention, preparing for the aggressive behavior to show itself, rather than blindly hoping it won't happen. They position themselves so that they can immediately, gently, and firmly stop a child's aggressive motions toward another child.
When an aggressive motion is stopped by the adult nearest the situation, that grownup offers to connect with the child and makes warm eye contact and physical contact. "I can't let you hurt Sally" can be said with an "I love you" tone of voice. If the child wants to go to his parent at this point, that's OK. The parent or other grownup offers to listen to the feelings the intervention has brought into the open.
Children don't really want to hurt each other or miss each other's cues on how much closeness or roughness is wanted. They become insensitive when they are full of tension or fear. Moving in before they do damage, and preventing thoughtless actions, relieves them of the guilt of having hurt someone, and usually lets them feel the bad feelings that were causing them to be "off track." These hurt feelings need to be expressed before the child can relax. When a child has cried hard and hasn't been shamed or blamed, he or she is much better able to notice other children, and to respond with thoughtfulness.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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