There have been several instances in the past week have led me to reflect on this question.
Yesterday’s thunderstorm thwarted Sam’s plans to play at a new playground; and so we found ourselves once again at the mall (looking for the comforts of Mr. Frankie’s balloons). At the indoor playground Sam encountered a little girl not much older than her, whose babysitter was just letting the latter do her thing while she read her book. Sam wanted to crawl through the tunnel slide, however this little girl decided to wedge herself in the passage between the stairs and the actual slide, so no other child could pass. My polite little girl looked and kept saying excuse me, however this other one wouldn’t let her pass at all. When Sam looked at me for help, even my attempts at coaxing the girl to let her pass wouldn’t work; she said she was afraid of the thunder (and chose to be a brat and let everyone else suffer). I kept looking in the direction of her very attentive babysitter (I’m apologize for the sarcasm and the judgment, but really… REALLY! *sigh*) who continued on, oblivious to her subject’s antics.
Finally Sam decided she really wanted to slide, and so she actually pushed her way through the girls feet. Little Ms Thunderstorm decided it wasn’t something she liked and so as a reaction she came sliding down after her, purposely stepping on Sam’s legs. I of course was watching all of this and would not have that behavior, so I changed my nice tone on the little girl and told her very sternly not to step on my daughter (Babysitter was STILL. READING. HER. BOOK.). After that Sam decided on her own that wherever the little girl went on the playground she would play in the opposite area.
In another incident this week at different playground, Sam saw a bunch of kids that she knew from our various activities around town. They were all playing nicely, but I did notice that this one particular girl that Sam attached herself to was getting to be very territorial and bossy. Whenever Sam would find something she’d like to play with, this little girl would take notice and start chasing after Sam declaring, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Mind you, they are of the same age. Or for instance, Sam followed her over to a jungle-gym set-up and the little girl decided she didn’t want Sam there so she started to push Sam away gently. Little Ms Bossy’s mom took notice and was reprimanding her daughter, but of course as is the case with most three year olds, it was falling on deaf ears. At a certain point when this little girl declared, “MINE” to a stick that Sam found, my daughter looked at her, held on tightly to her stick and shouted back, “No! It’s mine!” Then guiltily she looked at me and ran away, because I have more than once scolded her for that kind of behavior here at home.
In both instances I chose not to scold Sam for her behavior. Here I am taking pains to teach my own child everyday to take turns and be polite and share and play nice, all basic behaviors for proper social interaction, and yet here she encounters kids who don’t know how to do that! It’s quite frustrating to be honest. Crawling over the obstinate little girl and accidentally stepping on her toes in the process wasn’t exactly her fault. She did say excuse me as she was taught. Declaring the stick hers after so many attempts at trying to play nice I felt was also her way of defending her territory, and I will admit I liked that Sam stood up for herself.
It makes me wonder what the best time is (if there is any) to teach them when to avoid conflict or when to stand up for themselves. I thought back to the bullying incident a year ago and I realized I pulled Sam away from it because I felt she was too young to defend herself. Now that she’s almost three and can speak her mind, I feel that she should also learn to tell other kids when they are behaving inappropriately. I want her to recognize it for herself as she observes other kids her age.
I didn’t scold her, but I did take the time to process each incident with her right after it happened. I acknowledged that it might have been frustrating to not be allowed to pass, but complimented her on being polite. I said that the next time it happens, I’d encourage her to tell the little girl it wasn’t nice to block the way and also of course, say “sorry” for stepping on her toes. In the second scenario, I told her I still didn’t like her saying “mine” because it was still being selfish; rather in the future to say something along the lines of “let’s take turns, and when I’m done I will share it with you.” Similarly if she gets “pushed” away, she should say, “no pushing, it’s not nice,” instead of just always running to me with tears of rejection.
Don’t get me wrong: I want her to learn how to share, but at the same time, I also don’t want her to be a pushover! I will not always be there for her to run to and I feel she has to learn that for herself. My hope is that slowly as time passes she will learn when it’s best to avoid conflict and when she should stand up for herself. Well, even I am still learning when to confront and when to leave things well enough alone, so I hope these life lessons early will only give Sam a head start. Maybe she can take care of teaching Jamie too when the time comes.