A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook that made me feel pretty anxious and reminded me that there are some rocky roads ahead. She has a nice, kind daughter, and the little girl has decided that she wants to be friends with the resident “mean girl.”
I love talking to him—he’s so funny and creative, conversations are usually pretty interesting.
I love reading to him—he is a very enthusiastic book lover, and that gives me an insane amount of joy.
I love snuggling with him—we snuggle every morning, and it always starts the day off right.
I love watching him draw—he has this crazy innate talent (and love for it) that I can only assume was a recessive gene from his grandmothers, because neither Josh nor I have much in the way of artistic ability!
I do not love playing with my son.
Okay, before you get all, “How can she say that?!” on me, let me explain. I like playing with him, but I for sure don’t love it.
It’s almost always the same thing, and I almost always do it wrong, regardless of what I’m doing! Let me paint you a picture (with words since, as noted above, I have zero talent in the visual arts):
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. Josh is still sleeping, and Z and I have been up for a while. Z’s done watching Daniel Tiger and eating breakfast. He’s ready to play!
We get into his playroom, and Z makes a beeline to his drawer of cars. I desperately try to convince him to do anything else.
Me: “Hey, you know, we haven’t built a train track in a long time! I bet that’d be really fun. We could even put trees and dinosaurs around the track. Doesn’t that sound cool?”
Z: “No, I want to play cars.” Blargh. I tried.
I sit and wait for direction. I would never just grab a car and start driving it around the room! That is strictly forbidden, let me tell you.
Z: “Mommy, why aren’t you playing with me?”
Me: “I don’t know what you want to do yet.”
Z: “I want to play cars!” Oh . . . Duh.
Me: “Okay, but how do you want to play? What do you want to do with the cars?”
Z: “Let’s race!” Yes, that’s what I figured.
I pick a car from the two choices he’s offered me. He decides that’s actually the car he wanted, so he takes that one and hands me the other.
We race. And race. And race.
For. Ev. Er.
Now, to be fair to Z, I will admit that sometimes playing with cars is not racing. Sometimes we crash over them with monster trucks or put them down the big ramp with the loop in it. Ahh, such variety—the spice of life!
I’m going to give myself a bit of a break from guilt here:
I don’t hate playing everything. There are lots of things I happily play with him—soccer, catch, puzzles, board games, roughhousing on the super-soft, pillowy blankets on our bed, hide and seek, and many more like those.
But he never wants to do those things!! He loves to hang in his playroom and do the very things that bore me to tears.
So how have I been handling this situation?
Here’s where I get real with you.
I have found myself doing two things lately that I am totally not proud of.
1. Making excuses to either shorten playtime or get out of it altogether.
For example, “Oh I’d love to buddy, but I have to start making dinner!” or “Yeah, just let me get this one thing done first.”
Ugh. Even writing that out makes me feel like a horrible person!!!
2. Bringing my phone in the playroom and looking at it when he seems engaged in his own play.
This has gotten worse since I started the blog, unfortunately. I have a lot of social media irons in the fire, in an attempt to get this little blog noticed, and I get notifications that, well, have to be checked right away, you know.
Otherwise they’ll go away. Or something. Or I just suck.
Every time I do either of these things, I feel absolutely awful afterward. But I continue to do them anyway! What is wrong with me?
How can I (and you!) become a reformed play hater??
I’ll start by listing a few things I have been trying lately:
1. Infuse his play with my own style of play.
While playing cars, I’ll engage him in some kind of funny word play, or maybe I’ll pull him into my lap and cover him with kisses and tickles. It breaks up the monotony and either puts our brains to work or adds an element of physical affection, which is always a positive thing.
2. Break his “rules,” just to switch things up and keep him on his toes.
I’ll introduce monster trucks to the race, even though he explicitly stated it was only for race cars! Gasp!! Most days, this elicits a fit of giggles . . . If it doesn’t, and instead becomes a battle of wills, I drop the idea and play by his rules.
I’m not cruel. 😉
3. Set time frames for how long I’ll play before I go do whatever else needs to get done (usually dinner).
I got this idea from an article by Joshua Freedman, in which he suggests that we basically establish the ground rules for when we play and how long we play. This act can help us to more fully embrace and make the most of the playtime that we do give.
So far, I’ve found this to be a pretty useful strategy. Z and I have quality time together, and I know that (and this is going to sound terrible) my commitment to playing cars will end.
And here are a couple of suggestions from others:
1. Don’t let our kids boss us around.
Peter Gray Ph.D. asserts that it’s actually best if we basically stand up to our kids during play and try to get them to play the way we want to. He says that when a child is confronted with a playmate who does not bend to his will, he begins to develop valuable social skills, like being aware and considerate of the needs of others.
I have to admit that I’ve tried this a couple of times, with very little success. As I have mentioned previously, my little man is very willful and things can escalate pretty quickly. Playtime is generally one of those times when I choose not to fight battles if possible.
There are plenty of other times that I have to assert myself. I hate the idea of fighting during play.
But, since I’m actively trying to develop social skills in my kiddo, I may have to revisit this and give it another go.
This morning I broke down. I was feeling really lousy about something and I just couldn’t keep my emotions at bay. When my husband asked what I was thinking about as I stared off into space, I promptly began sobbing and the floodgates were open.
Then my son came back to the table, book in hand, asking me to read to him while he ate his breakfast. Avoiding eye contact with him, I quickly wiped my tears away and began reading with as controlled a voice as I could muster. Z was none the wiser.
I felt good, because I was able to keep our morning going smoothly and he didn’t have to deal with a sobbing mama and the potential awkwardness that might bring along with it.
Then I checked my Twitter feed and saw an article by Six Seconds, basically saying that we need to talk about feelings with our kids in order to develop their sense of empathy. While the focus of the article is mainly on simple activities you can do to help children be aware of their own emotions, the point was driven home: I have to be more open about how I’m feeling if I want Z to be able to recognize and empathize with others’ emotions.
As I did more research, I found some other great reasons to stop shielding my son from my negative feelings.
What is our responsibility as parents when we see another child asking our child for the toy he’s playing with? Do we attempt to force sharing? Do we let them work it out on their own? What will be best in the long run? Is there a right way to go on this?
I’ve seen plenty of defiantly-worded blog posts about why parents don’t make their kids share. While I can understand where they are coming from in a way, I am not fully convinced that we should not at least encourage our children to share. It seems like a fundamental life skill. I’m honestly still sort of on the fence about how hard we should push for sharing, so I think it’s worth exploring.
I’m currently exploring the issue of that thin line between fostering kind behavior and forcing it on our children. As I explained in my previous post about preschool apologies, I get frustrated by the inauthenticity that accompanies forced apologies. This is something that I experience in my daily life as the mom of a preschooler, but it’s also something I struggled with as second- and sixth-grade teacher.
In this post, I’ll be sharing my experiences with the issue in an elementary school setting, and then outlining some strategies for moving away from forcing insincere apologies and toward fostering heartfelt resolutions. If you’re more into the funny/exasperating tales of my little three-year-old tornado, not to worry—there’s plenty more where that came from, just not this week! Continue reading “Fostering vs. Forcing: Elementary Apologies”
“That’s not nice, and it hurts Malia’s feelings. Please apologize.”
Sound familiar? Yeah. This happens so, so often. It happens at home and it happens in the classroom.
In my experience, preschool-aged children tend to say they’re sorry with one foot out the door, tingling with the excitement to get back to whatever they were doing. They apologize as quickly as possible, with a look like, “Okay? Are you happy? Can I go PLAY?”
In elementary school, a lovely eye-roll or some other show of “sorry-not-sorry” might accompany the forced apology, and then the students return to the activity they were previously engaged in. There is no genuine resolution to the issue, no exploration of how the other child felt, and no follow-up.
In both cases, we usually just make the kids say they’re sorry and go about our business.
Because we’re busy.
Because being told your shirt is an ugly color is really not the end of the world.
Because neither the kids nor you wants a lengthy discussion, anyway.
Because we think it helps the accuser feel heard.
Because we are teaching them to be kind to each other.
Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.
But IS that what we’re supposed to do? Is this REALLY teaching kids how to be kind to each other?
When I was an elementary school teacher, I once attended a staff development meeting about… well, I’m not sure what it was about, to be honest. But the speaker was an incredibly animated man with some quirky presentation habits. It’s probably due to these odd behaviors that I never forgot his presentation. Maybe he did it on purpose!
Anyway, this man talked about what our more challenging students were going through when they were having meltdowns. He described the very front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, as the place that was shutting down when the students were so emotionally charged. Because the prefrontal cortex deals with self-control, the shutting down of that portion of the brain leads to a shutting down of self-control. His point was, basically, that we needed to be patient with these students and not attempt to reason with them in that moment. Continue reading ““In His Cortex”: Tantrums and Self-Awareness”