I chose to write about play dates and children sharing in this first episode because parents have come to talk to me about this situation more than once in the last few months. So here’s the situation: Mom schedules a play date with a few other moms and their children. During the playgroup, the child of the host throws a hissy fit and doesn’t want to share their toys with the other children. Most moms are embarrassed with their child’s behavior and don’t know what to do.
Here’s some advice given by other professionals. Some advise parents to help their child get through moments like these. Great advice and the only problem is there weren’t any specific ideas. Other professionals have said avoid these situations so the child doesn’t have to deal with actions and consequences. This one really baffles me because the only way children learn is by doing. If we want them to become experts at getting along with people, children must have as many opportunities as possible to learn how to act/behave during these moments.
So, here’s what I know about children and these situations:
Children really do have the right to say “I don’t want to share my toys with anybody.” Adults do this all the time. It may not be the kinds of toys 2 and 3 years have and yet we all have something so special that doesn’t get shared. The challenge is we want children to learn how to share. Here’s an idea: a couple hours before guests arrive, ask your child to help you set up the toys for the play date. Give her an option of picking three toys that remain upstairs and out of other people’s hands. Once everything is ready, I would remind the child “These are the toys everyone gets to play with. Your special toys are upstairs.” (or something like this)
Children enter this world without the knowledge or experiences of sharing and getting along with others. For whatever reason, many adults forget this and expect the child to know how to do something they have no clue how to do. It would be like you and me learning how to fly. On our first lesson, the teacher takes us into the cockpit of a 777 and says “Fly this airplane!” It’s not going to happen. Instead of expecting children to fly without instruction, we have to coach children through these moments. Here’s what I would do when a hissy fit is brewing or just starting: Take the child’s hand or hands, look them in the eye and calmly say “I understand this is tough for you. Please remember your special toys are upstairs. Right now every body gets to play with these toys. Which toy are you going to play with?” I would repeat this a couple of times and if the stubbornness continues, then I would do some sort of time out or redirection.
Children respond well to honesty; after all it is the best policy. I know how difficult this can be because too many times honesty is confused with anger and frustration. Remarks made out of anger and frustration usually include name-calling, condescending comments, and a whole bunch of words that can’t be taken back. Honesty, on the other hand, is all about the facts and no judgment either way. When a child is taking toys away or yelling at another child, I like to identify the behavior and the consequences associated with those actions. Children don’t always know what they’re doing is wrong or the consequences associated with their behavior. I believe that once children know this information, they have a better chance of making different choices now and in the future. So, I will say with a firm and matter-of-fact tone in my voice, “That’s not o.k. You’re being rude to Sally and people who are rude go sit on the stairs.” If they continue to be rude, they get to sit on the stairs; no second chances at this point. Their second chance comes after they’ve had a few minutes to calm down. Before joining the group, I like to remind them of the reasons for the time out (“You were being rude to Sally and people in this house are nice to their company.”), ask them if they are ready to be nice to people, and with a yes answer, I wish them luck and let them join the group.
Children respond well to genuine positive feedback. When children are playing nicely with their guests, I will say “You’re playing nicely with everyone today. Congratulations! I’ll bet you feel proud about that.” I like catching children in the act of doing good things and identifying that behavior. I say genuine positive feedback because children know when you’re sincere or not. The best way to lose credibility with a child is for them to think you don’t really mean what you say. Also, “I’ll bet you feel proud about that.” is the best self-esteem building statement I’ve learned.
I realize these are tough situations because of all the social pressure and desire to be the best parent possible. Sometimes this means disciplining your child in front of friends. Once the child learns what is acceptable, they will do some amazing things and they will have done it because you took the time to teach them.
Here’s my favorite part. After the guests leave and your child is off to bed, break out the green M & M’s and congratulate yourself on helping your child learn a skill they will use far beyond the early years!
This is what I know; did it help?
©2014 Ernie and Mary Batson