A few weeks ago, I found myself at the bottom of the slide at the playground waiting for M to go down. She was just about ready to push off when another child came up to her, stuck out her tongue, and blew a “raspberry” in her face. My sweet M, a child after my own heart, burst into tears. From the bottom of the slide, I called up to her, “Use your words. Tell her to stop.” “STOP!” M said having gathered a bit of composure and courage by this point. “NO! “You stop!” the child responded. M looked back at me seeming horrified, frustrated, and confused at the same time. I suggested she just come down to the bottom of the slide, and we would find somewhere else on the playground to go. When she got to the bottom, my sweet sensitive girl threw her arms around my neck. “But Mommy,” she said, “That wasn’t very kind at all.” I explained to her that she was right, that it was not kind. I told her I was proud of her for saying what she needed to say and using her words to communicate and that since the other child was having trouble listening it was probably best that we move on and play somewhere else.
So, we did. We moved onto the swings. And it wasn’t 2 minutes later that the child appeared again and repeated the same behavior. “STOP IT!” M yelled feeling emboldened by this point. The child again repeated the behavior. Enter Mama Bear. I looked into child’s eyes trying to tame the “teacher look” that I have honed to perfection over the years. “I hear her telling you to stop,” I said. And with that, the child moved on.
M did too, happily pumping her legs on the swings and begging me to push her higher. However, I didn’t move on as easily as those two did, and I will tell you why. First of all, I firmly believe the playground is one of the most important places we should be paying attention to our kids. It is more important than any classroom in which they will ever set foot. So much happens out there, y’all. I can attest to this as a former teacher and a parent. Our kids needs us tuned in when they are playing so that we can seize opportunities to teach safety, kindness, and social boundaries. For whatever reason, the mother of that child had no idea these incidents were taking place. Our kids deserve us to be present enough to intercede when they need lessons on how to socialize with other children.
Also, we have to maximize every opportunity to teach our children. I will never forget a mother whose child was in my very first class. She never missed a moment to teacher her child about manners, safety, patience, sharing, kindness, gratitude, etc. And I mean never. Even my 22 year old self recognized that she was parenting all. the. time. Today she is the mom of two of the most well-mannered, confident, and kind boys I have ever met, and she remains a dear friend. Because of her, I try and never miss a moment either.
Finally, speaking of missing moments, I couldn’t stop thinking about what this particular child must be missing. Attention? Self-confidence? Seeking out another child and continuing to antagonize is not a typical developmental behavior. Sadly, these behaviors can continue to escalate if they are not addressed, and we can all agree challenges are much easier to deal with at 3 than they are at 13 and beyond. This child was sending a message that was loud and clear. “I need help,” she seemed to be saying. “Teach me how to play with others and to be more successful in situations like these.” I sure hope someone is listening to her.
Because, you know what? We have to listen to our kids. They will guide us, and they will show us what they need. We just have to be paying attention.
Find the joy~