Friday, October 26, 2012

Let Them Work it Out



Sitting on the sidelines at a recent holiday preschool party, I watched my 4-year old zig-zag with glee around the gym.  She pushed toys, pulled kids in wagons, chased her friends and danced to the music.  Forty pre-schoolers were getting on famously in the spaciousness of a full-sized gym while having free reign of the toys.

When the organized events started, I noticed a shift in the mood.  Kids raced to line up for the face-painting, craft-making, and treat-gathering.  Sitting close to the face-painting station, I noticed the kids in the front of the line struggled to maintain both their patience and their pecking order.  Some kids in the back of the line tried to work their way up closer to the beginning of the line.  I watched out of the corner of my eye, as I usually do, allowing the kids to work out any squabbles over their status on their own.

Let Them Work it Out - Kids Fighting - Parent Unplugged - Stacy Snyder
It’s hard to watch them negotiate conflict without interfering.  It’s even harder to keep my partner from jumping up out of her seat and manhandling the situation.  She’s one of those parents whose natural instinct is to knock someone right off their block if they messed with her child, even if it was another child.  Most times she’s all talk and is able to keep her over-protectiveness at bay, but sometimes I feel as if I need to remind her that it’s just kids and they’ll learn how to handle themselves without our intervention.

Today was one of those days.  Our daughter was close to the front of the face-painting line.  One of the little girls from the back trying to get up front finally had managed to permanently finagle her way in front of our little one in line.  My girlfriend started frantically motioning to our child, as if she might be able to give her a hand signal as to how to handle the line-jumping.  I cut her off and told her to leave it alone, as the kids would figure it out.

Peace was restored as the little girl was once again shooed back to her place closer to the end of the line.  Another little girl tried the same routine….up to the front she trotted and this time, one of kids at the front, tired of defending her stance, allowed the child to take her spot.  My girlfriend this time started to get to her feet to “help out.”

“Let them be!” I scolded.  “This is how they learn.”

Ten kids had lined up for the one-woman face-painting by this time and the 4-5 minute turn-around time was not faring well with the figgety costumed kids, so I jumped up and asked the face-painter if I could lend a hand to keep the line moving.  Before I could get the brush to the paint jar, one of the earlier line jumpers moved up to the front again. 

Abandoning my edict of toddler self-regulation, I told the little girl to move to the back of the line.  She stood her ground so I started guiding her back to her own marker.  Another kiddo about 5 back, tried to sit in the chair to have me paint her face.  I picked her up out the chair and moved her back to her place in line and had the next kid in line sit down.

Once on my knees in front of a four-year-old princess whose face I was painting like a cat, I made eye contact with my girlfriend and then burst out laughing at myself, as I had augmented my motto of “letting them work it out” to “let them work it out, unless I’m close by.”