Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Playdate altercations

How would you all have handled this situation - during a playdate near the end (lunch, tired and hungry kids) one child starts yelling at another to let go of a toy. kids age range form 3-7; child yelling is 5. child being yelled at is 3.

If the child yelling is trying to take the toy from the 3yo, I would gently put my hand on the child's shoulder and say "Would you like a turn with toy? You can ask so and so, so that he/she know that you want the toy. Yelling so loudly is hurting my ears, but if you ask nicely perhaps so and so will give you a turn." Generally children respond to a request like this. If the 5yo refuses to stop yelling, I would ask him or her to go to a place where he or she can yell and not disturb others (this may mean requesting the parent remove the child from the playgroup until he or she is calm, to their car, a restroom, perhaps take the child home.) If the child does calm down and is polite I would say "I love the way that you were using such polite words. That makes my ears feel much better." Even if he or she does become calm and politely requests a turn,there is the possibility that the 3yo says no the child cannot take a turn (in the 3yo eyes taking a turn means immediately giving up the toy) so in that case I would tell the 5yo "He/She is still using the toy. When he/she is finished it can be your turn. While you are waiting you can use this toy (giving a substitute), or you can just wait until he/she is finished." It is important that you do not force the child that has the toy to give it up to make the other one happy, or require sharing. One child's time with an activity is just as important as another child's. If the 3yo does share or immediately give the other child a turn I would say "I bet that made so and so very happy." This way the 3yo knows that his or her actions had a positive impact on someone. Sharing should be something spontaneous, not forced because good or nice children share.

If the 3yo took something from the 5yo and the 5yo was yelling trying to recover said item, there is legitimacy in his or her yelling. I would gently put my hand on his or her shoulder and say "Is there a more polite way that you could ask for your toy back?" Then see what happens. Generally, a child can calm down when snapped out of the fit of rage by a gentle voice. If the 3yo does not comply with the polite request of the 5yo to return the toy, then I would step in and say to the 3yo "So and so was still using that. If you would like a turn you could ask him or her for a turn when he or she is finished. Right now, though, you must give it back to so and so." If the 3yo complies (and they usually do, the taking of a toy is generally an impulse and after the impulse they realize they were wrong), I would say to the 3yo "Thank you for returning the toy to so and so, I bet the made him or her feel much better. Would you like to ask for a turn with it when he or she is finished?" If the 3yo does not return the item I would say further "You can give the item to him or her or you can give me the item (then I would give the item back to the injured party)." and if still no compliance you may need to request the parent takes the child home, as he or she is not cooperatively playing. In a school situation or if my child were the one that was not being cooperative I would say "You can give me the toy now and you may not use anything else until you are ready to be polite." If it is my own child I may say I was taking her home because she was not being polite.

I would also request to the playdate organizers that the playdate either not be quite so long or not run into lunch time, because that is a brewing grounds for trouble. A parent meeting for regular playdate groups to lay down ground rules for when you should take a child home is often helpful. I would step in even if the parent is there and not responding (I even do at the mall playground and such) because I am trained to handle these situations and many parents feel ill equipped to handle them and are often thankful. Even if the parent is not, it is still a learning opportunity for the other children/parents in the group.


  1. I have to respectfully disagree with some of Tammy's post.? To me, this approach is too much focus on the material possession and the problem.? If so and so had it first, then do this.....? The focus to me should be on the relationship and the solution.? I have never ended a play date because of sharing issues.? We solve and move on and as the children mature, they do the same.? My daughter, who used to have serious issues sharing her things when children were here, is?an excellent example of doing just that.? ??

    One never really knows who had it first, or who took what from whom when someone wasn't looking.? And a three and five year old certainly aren't the most objective sources.? In my experience working with and observing children in classrooms, there are almost always dynamics that go undetected by the adult in charge and while I believe listening to both sides of the story can be beneficial, I do not think it is helpful to model for the children that this "thing" that is causing the conflict is soooo important that we should spend all sorts of time talking about who had it first, who grabbed from whom........ and then impose?our own?adult contrived solution, often at the expense of the relationship. ?Children are far more?capable of?solving their own problems than they're given credit for but they need adult guidance and opportunity, which?seems to occur infrequently. ?

    What is beneficial IMO, is defining the objective facts, (I.e., "There's only one balloon and you both want to play with it.")?and then sending?the message that you know a solution can be reached.??My daughter will often say, "I know, I'll go get?__ and the baby can have this!"? ?Wonderful, everyone is happy, problem solved!? Children feel very empowered when they gain an ability to generate their own solutions.

    I've also found that focusing on the details, such as, who had it first, who started the grabbing,etc. ,?often makes it far more likely that one or both will blame and/or lie to justify their side of the story.? I don't "go there" so to speak.? The message simply is,?"let's?work this out together".?? No blame or defensive posturing?necessary .??????

    I do, however, absolutely agree with NOT forcing the apology.? I cue apologies,?i. e., "Now would be a good time to say you're sorry", but I never force them.? Of course I model my own willingness to take responsibility for my mistakes, and my five year old?has definitely caught on.? She's very apologetic with her brother when appropriate.

    These situations are all about the teachable moment in my opinion.

  2. I am not sure you read my post correctly. I would not focus on the materials, but rather the action of taking something from someone else or otherwise disrupting another who was concentrating.This is not acceptable in society and should not be acceptable in a playgroup situation.

    The two different scenarios were not to assign blame, but to tailor the appropriateness of the response. In one case the yelling was completely inappropriate, and in the other the yelling could be appropriate, even if an overreaction.

    I also did not suggest to end a playdate because children were not sharing. I do not think anyone ever has to share if that is not their wish. I would suggest ending the playdate for the child if after given three chances to calm down and act appropriately the child does not do so. Clearly the child needs something else to meet his or her needs, whether that is food, rest, less stimulation, etc. So, it would be no longer appropriate to subject him or her (and the other children) to a situation that is too stressful for the child at that point.

    I also did not go into the who had it first argument, because I handle that differently from the two scenarios I laid out. In that situation I do agree that the children are not necessarily the most reliable source of information (although I do ask each for their stories). So, the scenarios I gave were based on the adult seeing the situation played out, and in a playgroup with a 1-to-1 ratio, parents do usually see how it happened.

    Yes, I do agree that it is important to allow the children to come up with their own solutions, which is why in both of the scenarios I laid out I asked the child to reconsider and what approach would be better. But, if the offending student came up with the solution that they can take the toy and give a replacement and then the other student is more passive, so just accepts that, what is the lesson there? It is not fair to the gentler child that they had their toy taken away just because they didn't scream and yell about it and were willing to accept that.. The situation is not correctly resolved just because the altercation ends and they go on playing. And many times if you let a situation play itself out when it is to the point of yelling, hitting is not far off, adult intervention is needed. When children do not have conflict-resolution tools in their belt, they do need guidance through the situation. Sometimes an adult needs to be an advocate until a child finds its own voice. I do encourage the child that is the victim to use their own words to speak up to defend themselves, but often they need help finding the words to express their emotions. I might say, "Tell so and so how you felt when he/she took your toy?" Aggressors need to realize that their actions have hurt another, whether physically or emotionally, and that it is not OK, and that is not how you behave in society. I did not suggest a punishment or someone being in "trouble," but rather an appropriate resolution. In playgroups, and in life, there are aggressors and victims and to pretend that that does not exist is just not reality.

    I hope this helps clarify.