Thursday, July 17, 2008

Playground behaviour

Recently a discussion on a parenting message board got me thinking about what I've done to equip my kids to deal with mean-spirited behaviour from other kids. You know, the sort of stuff where some young 5-year-old attacks his playmate with classic threats like "if you don't give me that, I won't be your friend" or "oh yeah? well Josh is my best from from now on, not you!"

Having kids who are older now, I wanted to offer some tried-and-true wisdom, but I realized: my kids haven't really ever learned how to deal with mean-spirited kid behaviour. That sort of stuff tends to spring up when levels of adult supervision are low and the number of kids is high. My kids don't go to school and don't end up in a lot of situations where the adult to child ratio is less than 1:4. On the rare occasions where they've witnessed a kid saying "I won't be your friend if you don't ____" they've been stunned. I've usually been a witness too, and we've talked about it as a family, either afterwards or in a quiet corner of the common space. We've talked about how some kids struggle with polite respectful social skills, perhaps because they haven't been taught how to think about others' feelings, and that's kind of been it.

But it's only happened rarely, the group of kids has usually been small, parents usually present and involved, and it hasn't gone very far. In essence my kids have avoided the vast bulk of that sort of thing. It's just how our lives have worked out. We spend time with people we like, and my kids like people who behave respectfully.

So I thought about Noah and Erin, both of whom are sensitive souls, and wondered what they've missed out on by not having to learn to deal with that garbage. How do they cope now? Well, the truth of it is that as they get older, people stop shouting "I'm not inviting you to my birthday party, so there!" as a form of retaliation over a trivial perceived slight. While there are no doubt a few teens and adults who behave almost as childishly, my kids are never going to hang out with them, because they abhor that sort mean-spiritedness.

The bottom line is that childish mean-spiritedness becomes much less prevalent and much easier to avoid when you're no longer 5 years old. So I don't think a bit of avoidance is such a bad thing at all. The schoolyard or the playground aren't really Real Life. They're rough places full of socially inept impulsive little people. Real Life is much easier to deal with in a lot of ways.

2 comments:

  1. I completely agree.

    Maddie has run into that same "you're not my friend anymore" behaviour with the neighbour kid. Maddie shrugs it off and the neighbour kid gets over it.

    I like to think that it doesn't bother Maddie because playground politics are such a small part of her life. Her self worth isn't dependant on what other kids her age have to say, as it might be if she spent six hours a day, everyday, in that environment.

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  2. It was nice to read this post. We avoid playgrounds unless we have the place more or less to ourselves. This is not for the same reasons as you: my kids are more likely to instigate verbal assaults than to be victims of them. It mostly happens in a certain dynamic: large hordes of kids all around the same age. When they are in small groups, or large groups of very mixed ages (i.e. babies to teens) it is not usually an issue. Part of it is their inherent temperament, part is that neither seems to want to be in large packs of kids in the first place. Instead of trying to innoculate them with exposure, we do what works for us and I reassure myself that as they mature they'll be better able to cope.

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