A few weeks ago I was sitting in the garden behind Notre-Dame in Paris waiting for my daughter to finish climbing to the top of the Cathedral towers. All was peaceful until two boys decided they were bored and started running around several benches, including mine. School was still in session in Paris so they must have been waiting for classmates to finish whatever they were doing. Soon two boys turned into three, three into four and finally there were five of them chasing each other and generally disturbing the serenity of the Square de Jean XXIII. At no time did the first two boys stop long enough to ask boys 3, 4, and 5 to join them. They just did.
This happens a lot with young children. You’d like to think that when they are choosing to follow the behavior of another child, they are being discriminate about what behavior to mimic. Unfortunately, that is not the case. They are young children and it is in their nature to be a part of the “monkey see, monkey do” syndrome. As parents and caregivers, it is up to us to teach them which behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable for them.
Some “not acceptable for them situations” are stickier than others. Your definition of acceptable behavior might be different than those around you including family, friends and strangers.
These are techniques I’ve used with my own children, with my class or have learned along the way.
The easiest situation is when you are in a public place and you and your child observe inappropriate behavior of another child or group of children from a distance. If I had been sitting on the park bench with a young child I would have said something like, “I’m glad you are sitting on the bench with me. I know the people around us appreciate it too. Do you think the boys should be running around?”. Then you can quietly talk about why they shouldn’t be running around……..it’s noisey and people are trying to read….there’s a lot of people walking around and someone might get hurt…….the list could go on.
Of course the teacher in me was sitting there trying to control the urge to say ” Garçons, s’il vous plait arreter de courir, il vous est perturbateur”. Yep, I had translator, but didn’t use it to say, “Boys, stop running, you’re being disruptive”……but I wanted to!
What if your child was part of the pack causing the disruptive behavior? Easy. You ask them to sit or stand with you. You tell them why and that when the group has calmed down and changed back to acceptable behavior they can rejoin the activity.
Play dates unfortunately are a little more sensitive especially when it might affect your friendship with the parent.
1. The host child begins to exhibit bad behavior, you watch your child beginning to follow, you hesitate, hoping the host parent will step in, they don’t and it’s time for you to take action!
Actually, before you arrived, you should have been proactive. You’ve already taught your toddler that “no” means to stop what they are doing and if they don’t there will be consequences. Why not teach them the equivalent for play dates by having a sign that only the two of you know? Say their name so they are looking at you and tug on your ear (the comedian Carol Burnett used this after every show to tell her grandmother she loved her). The key is if you used it, stick to the consequences for not changing behavior. The play date might end early, but your child will know that you mean what you say and that will serve you well when they are teenagers!
It works in the classroom too. Let me give you an example. I have a necklace at school that I can easily take on and off. If I have a child with difficulty controlling behavior I tell them I’m going to wear my necklace. If I take it off that means their behavior is not appropriate for the classroom. When they are back on track I put it back on. That student and I only know the meaning of what I am doing.
2. The play date is at your house………………… the guest child begins to exhibit bad behavior, you watch your child beginning to follow, you fear something will be broken, you hesitate, hoping the guest parent will step in and they don’t. What do you do?
The experts would tell you to redirect their play. If they are throwing blocks, then you pick up the blocks and direct them towards another activity. That should work.
What if it doesn’t, it continues and the guest parent still ignores the situation? First, make a note to yourself………..don’t invite them back. Next, and this is entirely my personal opinion, it’s your house and if you have to step in, you should. If a parent is watching their child be unkind, mean, reckless, poor table manners, etc and they do nothing to stop it, then, frankly, they have no respect for you, your family and your home. If it was my house, I’d ask the offending child to stop and ask my own child to help me clean up, telling them that I am afraid something is going to be broken and they can play with it again after guest child leaves. Look at the particular situation facing you. Be creative in what you say to keep it general and not point fingers. Take your child out of the situation first and then it seems less offensive when you take the guest child out of it.
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that you want to stop the situation before your child becomes a follower. When you acknowledge appropriate play your child then becomes the good host and guest. As they get older they might take care of the problem before it becomes one……….. “We can’t throw blocks because if we do my mom will make us put them away”……….. Music to a parent’s ears!