Policies That Work Well When Children Get Together (page 3)
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- withdrawn behavior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.
Incidents like a child hovering at the edges of the group, or going off to "play" alone, unwilling to allow anyone to make contact.
The adults involved can make brief overtures to the child, offering gentle invitation to connect with them or with other children. Allowing a child a few minutes between each overture helps the child to try using his or her own initiative to enter the group.
If overtures don't reach through the child's isolation, then gently moving in and staying close is in order. Listen while upset feelings are expressed. Your gentle reassurance that he or she is welcome in play will help.
Sometimes, children become so trapped by feelings that they can't make use of the opportunities to play. If they can't break out of the isolation themselves, we need to help them--leaving them isolated abandons them to feeling so badly that they can't make contact. Staying close and making contact will bring the sadness of a child's isolation up where the child can express it. Listening until the child can make contact will help him or her over the hump of isolation and into being able to play in the group. It also helps the child feel much closer to the adult who kindly listened.
Squabbles over possession
Incidents like a child coming up and grabbing the toy another child is playing with. Also, whining about whose turn it is now.
It's best if the adults involved can intervene without urgency to solve the problem. Reassure both children that they can work this out.
Decide among the adults what the policy on turns will be, and go by that policy. Among infants and toddlers, I like to use the policy that a child can play as long as he/she wants with a toy, and I (or another adult) will help the child who wants it with her feelings about wanting and having to wait. Lots of grief and urgency will be expressed. You can reassure the child by saying, "You'll get the special dolly (or red truck) when he's through. I'll make sure you do. I see how much you want it."
There are several good things about the "I'll help you wait until he's through" policy. We as adults don't have to take things away from children in order to enforce turns. The more children have things taken from them without being able to work on the feelings this causes, the more likely they are to grab things from each other.
The second great feature is that children have a chance to cry fully about their feelings of wanting, with gentle adult attention while they grieve. This helps children work through their attachment to things as the solution to their bad feelings. It offers adult warmth in the place of the desired thing, which is an excellent trade, although the child will still cry until his or her grief has been expressed. When children have this chance to want openly and be listened to, they tend to be able to relate more fully to adults and friends, and to have a better perspective on the importance of their things.
If you enforce turns, often, a child won't express his feelings of deep need for the desired thing. When it's his turn, he'll still be full of tension about having the toy, and will be paying more attention to keeping others away than to enjoying it. The tension is actually the issue that the child needs help with. A good cry can clear the child's mind of fixation on that toy, and allow him to fully enjoy the toy without fear of others interfering, when he finally gets it.
The mission of Hand in Hand is to foster healthy parent-child relationships that will last a lifetime. Parenting by Connection is Hand in Hand’s approach to fostering close, responsive relationships between parents and children. All information has been reprinted with permission from Hand in Hand, © 1997 - 2009 Hand in Hand.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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