Monday, February 8, 2010

A Rant Left Over from Last Week

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

Speaking of sharing (in the X Factor post, and in the comments of that post), let me tell you about something that happened last week.

We were playing at a Jumpy Place near our house, and there about eight kids total in the place. Ryan was the oldest, Sean about the youngest kid. Now Ryan and Morgan loved playing there, and ran around like monkeys the whole time.

Sean, though, was a little intimidated by the noise (those places are LOUD!) and didn't want to jump, not even with me. So he shadowed me for the most part. I found a blow-up hockey game with little plastic balls, and since there were plenty of balls and nothing really for Sean to do, I gave him two to hold. He toddled around with them, one in each hand, happy as can be. After a while, he and Ryan started up a game where Sean would throw the balls into one of the jumpy houses where Ryan was waiting, and then Ryan would toss them back out from surprising angles. Yay. Fun could be had by all!

Another mom with a toddler about a year older than Sean by the looks of her happened by during one of these games, looking at the blow-up hockey table. Ryan had just tossed the balls out onto the floor to Sean. The other mom scooped up both of Sean's balls and said to her child, "He's had these long enough. Let's play hockey!"

Oh. My.

So Sean, of course, got upset, because this other Mommy took his balls without so much as a glance at him, let alone any kind of discussion with ME.

Now I know that here on my blog, I'm often full of ranty eloquence (heh). But when I encounter such OMGWTF sort of moments in real life, I'm usually speechless and staring, because I'm trying to process what just happened, attempting to reconcile the evidence of my senses with my notions of how things ought to be in the world.

So I just stared at this woman, speechless, holding my screaming, upset child. She finally looked over and threw one of Sean's balls back to him. She didn't hand it; she threw it. A pitiful attempt to mollify him (or me?).

I found my voice and spoke to my child, "You're sad that they took the balls you were playing with. You weren't done with your turn." That's what I'd have said if one of his siblings had taken it, but I also said it so the other Mom could hear (we were about 10 feet from each other.) He wasn't happy with just the one ball, either. I kept trying to soothe him and figure out what to do next.

At this point, the other Mom actually looked in the hockey game and lo and behold! A veritable cornucopia of plastic balls! Gee. Wonder why you didn't go that route in the first place? So, upon discovering these other balls, she reached in and tossed another one our way.

Now most parents, even those who believe in sharing for sharing's sake, would probably never ever do what that other woman did, just sweep in and make a unilateral sharing decision about someone else's child. And to be so rude about it, throwing the balls back at us, because he dared to be upset! I'm still floored, just thinking about it. (And boy, do I ever wish I was better at thinking on my feet in such situations!! But I remain slow on the uptake.)

But how many times have I seen people do pretty much the same thing to their own kids? I have been tempted many, many times to do the same thing myself. Someone is taking a super-long turn, and it's so tempting (and in many ways easier) just to step in and say "Okay. You've had long enough. Give that toy to her."

When a parent swoops in and delivers judgment and enforces a limit without any input from the children involved (or even warning!), there is a missed opportunity for the children to learn to handle these kinds of transactions themselves. They don't have a chance to learn the right words to say, or how to approach another child who is having a long turn with a desirable toy, or even learn that there are rationally self-interested reasons to share or take turns with others. (We always explain such reasons in terms of the Trader Principle, which I have to say is the Objectivist idea I seem to use most often in parenting.)

Yes, it takes a little extra time, especially at first, but it pays off in spades in the long run. My older kids (one of whom still has trouble with this idea, as I mentioned in that earlier post), know that they have a responsibility to try to work it out themselves before getting a grownup involved. In general, they handle such conflicts without me (mostly I need to step in with Ryan and remind him to speak kindly). And that saves me a lot of time now.

The littlest one is just embarking on this learning journey. He doesn't quite get it yet, but it's never too early to hear the words "Morgan would like a turn now. How much longer do you need with that toy?" He'll figure it out eventually. And he won't come to depend on me to solve these problems for him.

Now if I can just think of snappy comebacks a little quicker!

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