On one bright sun-shining afternoon, I was enjoying a cup of coffee in a favorite cafe when my friend joined me. She looked like she had an exciting morning. She explained, after a moment with the coffee cup, she had been volunteering at a local child care facility. Over the next cup of coffee, she told me about her experience with the children.
It was a very busy morning. Today, I was helping out with the toddlers. They have so much energy! They are so curious and are hard to keep up with, but they are so much fun.
However, there was sort-of a situation where two children started crying. The other workers and I didn't see what happened and didn't know what the problem was. Luckily, the children weren't hurt and the suggestion of playing with the bubbles got them back to their giggling happy selves. But, my question is how would you figure out what happened in such a situation—who did what?
Let me recall a situation that helps to explain why it’s so important to talk with children. One day at the child development center, a teacher came to me with a little girl about 3 years old; I will call her Sophie. Sophie was crying with an obvious wound on her knee—it appeared she had a little accident while playing. After we cleaned her up and soothed her, I asked her about what happened because she said that Lilly did it.
Wanda: Sophie, where were you when you got hurt?
Sophie: On the train. [The center had a little push cart in
the shape of a train that the children could sit on
and push around with their feet.]
Wanda: Who were you playing with?
Wanda: Where was your knee when it got hurt?
Sophie: In Lilly's mouth.
My suggestion for the adult is to make way for the child to give an accurate explanation. We did not see what actually happened between Sophie and Lilly. In fact, I originally thought that Sophie bumped her knee and accidentally scratched it on the train. Rather than confront the child, it’s better to ask a question that gets to the child’s feeling and thoughts. In this case, Sophie gave the exact answer to what happened.
Ok, I see how you can’t assume what happened. But, what do you do now with the biter? How would you correct the child without placing blame? I can see that this could turn into “she did such-and-such first” and it goes back and forth. After all, I guess we really don’t know who started what, but that’s not important right now.
Well returning to the example, I would say to Sophie:
“Come on Sophie, let’s go find Lilly.” Once we have both children together, we would talk about the problem. We would say something like this:
“Lilly, I know that sometimes you wish you could play with the train all the time. But, there are two of you—Lilly and Sophie—and there’s one train. So, Lilly, you can say to Sophie,
‘Please, let me play now on the train’.
And Sophie, you can say to Lilly,
‘Let’s take turns. You can play and then I can play on the train.’”
I would explain to the children that we use our words to get what we want.
So, we “rehearse” the proper way to get along using words?”
This is what it means in guiding behavior—help the child know how to use their words. So, they will use their words instead of their bodies to solve a problem.
Hmm, I see that makes sense… We would need to teach the child how to use words. I think it’s reasonable for us, as adults, to expect a child to innately know the power of words as soon as they start talking.
But, what about biting?
We will save that discussion for the next cup of coffee.