Earlier this week I took my son out to a local YWCA centre where my son can play with toys around other children, create crafts, or take age-appropriate “classes” full of activities around a theme.
Whenever I am there, I see parents hover over their kids and watch every little action like a hawk so that they can swoop in the moment tht something starts going poorly. I consider this a terribly missed opportunity. I do coach my son how to behave around other kids when he needs it, or is coming across some totally new kind of interaction, but whenever I can, I let him try to navigate social waters on his own.
Not only does this let me get a real idea about how far he is coming along and how I can help him grow, but it gives me a chance to see him really shine in social environments. By sitting back and watching, but being availbable if needs advice, but leaving him to his own devices, my son has pleasantly surprised me by becoming a very independent and thoughful young man even in complicated social situations.
This past Tuesday he blew my mind – twice.
The first time my son blew my mind on Tuesday is when he came into conflict with a little girl about two years older than him. My son was using some tools in the play kitchen area when a girl decided that she really wanted the toy pizza cutter that he was using. She already had a small pile of toys, but she rushed over and pulled the pizza cutter out of m son’s hands.
Her mother, exasperated, made her give it back and apologized profusely about how her daughter was still hving a hard time with the “sharing thing.” My boy, however, was already eyeing a pair of tongs she had. All I said to him was “It looks like she really wants that pizza cutter, son. What do you want to do?”
Then I sat back to see how he would handle it.
To my delight my son pointed to the tongs, and said “trade,” holding out the pizza cutter. The girl was a little surprised and a little confused, but decided to go along with it. My son happily took the tongs and integrated them into his play.
A few moments later, the girl developed a combination of jealousy and buyer’s remorse – clearly the tongs were more fun – given how much enjoyment my son was getting over them. She tried to take the tongs back, and my son held them away from her and said “No.” Then, he looked at the pizza cutter and again said “trade.” He decided, very rightly, that he wasn’t going to win a fight, but he might be able to get out of the conflict with something he wanted. He got his pizza cutter back, and returned to his first game.
Of course, the little girl couldn’t stand for it for long, and stole the pizza cutter, too, so as soon as my son’s attention lapsed. He looked up at me, clearly upset, and I said “I know, buddy, that was totally not fair. Can we think of something else we can do?” I pointed out the other toys nearby. He shot her a dirty look and grabbed a different toy that would serve as a pizza cutter and went back to playing.
When her poor, frustrated mother wouldn’t let the girl steal that pizza cutter, too, the girl offered my son a trade. He thought about it, and then said “No, thank you,” and gestured at her to leave him alone. He knew better than to trust her.
I couldn’t have been more proud of how he handled that with only the tiniest bit of prompting from me. He played nice, and extremely fair at a level I hardly expected from a two-year-old. But, when the other kid wasn’t willing to reciprocate, he walked away – he was smart enough to realize that playing nice was not going to get him any further with someone who wasn’t going to deal with him nicely in return.
Inclusion and Teaching
After his first encounter with litte girls that day, I was surprised at how well he dealt with the next one. Especially around the play kitchen.
After the first girl left, my son developed an interest in the bag of play dough that she had left behind. He tried a few experiments on how to best integrate it into his kitchen play before I suggested (mostly to cut own on the mess that I would have to help him clena up,) that he roll the play dough into little balls and pur them in the muffin tin to make some muffins.
Once he got the idea, he got excited about it, proclaiming to every parent, child, and care worker who passed: “I’m making muffins!” Soon he was making muffins with some play dough, and play-dough pancakes using a frying pan and the light-up range. Very hsppily.
After the last girl had been gone for all of six minutes, another one came bounding over to the kitchen, muscled up next to my son, and began playing about with the pans in the sink, exploring te range, and generally trying to claim the space… including moving my son’s pancakes out of the way so she could use the range.
My son looked at me, looking at least a little fed up. Instead of coaching him to share, like I might have a year ago, I decided to see what he would do again. I just said “Oops! Looks like that little girl wants to use the sink and the front burner. I guess you need to share the kitchen. Maybe you want to microwave something?”
He stepped back for a second to think, (while the girl’s mother scolded her for being pushy and moving my son’s things.) Then he put some of his play dough into the microwave, and then stepped around her. The moment she moved her knees he opened the oven back up and started adding the rest to his muffins.
When the girl developed an interest he told her. “I’m making muffins! You put dough in cups inna pan!” Then he demonstrated what he was doing. She pulled the tray out of the oven a bit – likely to claim the space, but my son stopped the pan, and handed her a fistful of play dough. “You put dough inna tray!”
She took the dough and watched as he added some to one of his dough balls. When she did the same, my son clapped and smiled and gave her more dough. Soon they were stuffing the muffin tray with as much play dough as they could find. He took a brief break to look at me and declare “We am making muffins!”
The game only lasted a couple of minutes before they spilled the tray on the floor. My son tried cleaning up the dough (I am very strict about cleaning up), while she decided to take advantage of his distraction to claim the rest of the play kitchen space for herself.
As much as I like bragging about my kid, the real reason I shared this story is to talk about what I did… which was relatively little. I sat back and let him work things out for himself, only offering help when he was feeling distressed or looking for cues.
I gave my son a chance to solve his problems himself, and show me what he learned. I was prepared to intervene if he ended up using screaming, bullying, or stealing as his solution. In fact, I was rather prepared for that, he is after all the toddler. By letting him choose how to respond to a situation, I get to learn about where he is at in his Social Development. And I get to teach him to solve his own problems, rather than expecting me to help.
And, accordingly, he was able to do me proud. I was able to see how far he’d come, and how he had taken my lessons in resolving things through trade and negotiation, not just to hurt, but had figured out how to apply them in situations other than the ones we use when we role play with his toys at home.
I made sure to praise His good choices, so that he would keep making them. Something I wouldn’t have been able to do, if he hadn’t had the chance to make them. Which hopefully means I will see more of the same in the future.