Survival of the Fittest: ways to get your tot to play nice

This post originally appeared on Lionheart Lamb

“Did you hear what your daughter did?”

Those are never the words you want to hear from your child’s preschool teacher, but that was what I was hit with as soon as I walked through the door.

“Ummm No,” I said, obviously worried.

I was picking up my 2 year old – my badass. So, I knew this was going to be embarrassing.

Her teacher went on to tell me that a little boy in her class tried to push her out of her seat and steal her toys. So, my Millie put him in a headlock, threw him to the ground and stood over his body while he cried.

See? Badass.

And embarrassing.

“I am so so sorry!” It was all I could say as my tough little chick grabbed her book bag off the hook and started out the door without me. “I hope you put her in timeout or something.”

“No,” said the teacher, “she was just standing up for herself.”

I’m not an “all is fair in playtime and war” type of person. But, this once again proved my theory that preschool age is truly “survival of the fittest”. But as a mother who wants to raise decent human beings that don’t put other people in headlocks, this whole scenario scares me.

So, what do we do about it?

The thing is: preschool aged kids don’t mean to be jerks. They are still primal beings. And the number one thing they don’t want to do: SHARE.

They don’t want to share toys, they don’t want some other random kid invading their space and sometimes they don’t want to share play with someone who is new.

At the same time, including a new friend and sharing is vital to their development AND makes playtime a lot easier (less fighting).  It’s on us – as parents – to have them practiceinclusiveness.

Practice is the key word here.

Between the ages of 2 and 6, kids won’t immediately catch on when you tell them a certain behavior or language isn’t nice. And as much as I love PBS shows like Daniel Tiger or Sesame, experts will tell you, kids need to live out the action of kindness, sharing and inclusion – and they learn those traits directly from their parents and caregivers.

The people at PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center gave me some advice to pass along to you, so that we can give our little ones the building blocks needed to squash bullying.

First of all, think about role playing activities you can put your child in so that they can practice cooperation.

And before you roll your eyes and call me Captain Obvious, think about how your playdates are structured. I know for me, we let the kids play and break up fights over toys as they come. But are we showing them how to play and get along?

Here are a few examples of games to play to practice cooperation:

  • Relay race – depending on their age, have them either pass a baton to one another to finish a relay race or have them do a two-legged race and work together to run.
  • Group scavenger hunt – Have them work together to find items on a list. Make it easy by listing things found in nature or in the backyard and make sure everyone contributes.
  • Balloon bop – kids love nothing more than balloons, right? A simple way to get them to work together is blowing up a balloon and having them keep it in the air. I’ve also seen this method suggested with a “parachute” or blanket, where all the kids have to use their piece of the blanket to keep the balloon or ball bouncing in the air.

Second, don’t shield them from getting hurt or disappointed.

PACER suggests this: Play games in which kids lose a turn and gain an extra turn to practice appropriately expressing excitement and disappointment.

This will help your child learn acceptance. You can’t complain about the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality, and then turn around and let your kids “win” every backyard game, right?

So, no changing the rules so that they win or everybody wins to avoid the meltdown.

Third, read about diversity and expose them to different cultures. 

This one should be easy considering our global world, right? But take a look through your child’s books. Are they diverse? Or are they mostly the same faces and story lines?

PACER suggests exposing your child to different art, music and food from other cultures and explaining where it’s from.

“Share art from the Mayan culture, play Calypso music and talk about African musical traditions, and show belly dancing from the Middle East or Flamenco dancing from Spain. Use these lessons to create your own art project, concert, or dance performance.”

Not only will these exercises help you create an awesome little human who is better at sharing and playing with others, but I think I just gave you a few ideas for a bad ass playdate.

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