Saturday, April 24, 2010

How have I taught friendship? (pt.2)

Recently, we had a rainy day and therefore indoor play in our "Social Hall" - a large, cavernous, echoing room that correlates with children wanting to yell and run. (It is my least favorite room in the school - and the favorite of most children.)

Carter and Zach were very excited, telling me enroute to the Social Hall, "We're going to play bad guys!"

"Bad guys" is one of those organic games that happens every spring with three and four year olds - usually little boys. The game has rules that I've never figured out, involving running, chasing, yelling. I don't like it much, because it seems to scare a number of the quieter children. Often, the "bad guy" follows classmates around, pulling them to do something, exclaiming, "I am a bad guy! I am getting you!" Of course, many children scream in response. Over the years, I have heard many adult responses. There's the classic angry adult - "Stop that right now, xyz! You are making her cry!" Or the more muted frustrations - when there is a crying response, the adult solves it by saying, "I don't think they want to play," or, "Let's play something else." Sometimes, I've insisted that the bad guys chase invisible foes only (i.e., nobody in the class!). Some years, I've put a total kibosh on it because I was simply unable to deal...I'd decree, "Ms. Maureen's class does not have bad guys and we do not play that game."

But this year, ha! I'm empowered from the "Power of Peers" training (see March 21st entry). I can't help but think, hmmm, is this an opportunity to practice our friendship skills? Are these bad guys just doing some awkward socializing?

Back to Carter and Zach exclaiming, "We're going to play bad guys!"
I found myself saying in response:
"Remember our friendship skill - ask your friends if they want to play with you before you start the game with them."
"Oh, yes, of course!" said Carter, very maturely.

Carter and Zach go to Eisleigh. "Play bad guys?"
"No, I don't!" said Eisleigh.
They run to Colin, "Play bad guys?"
"No, I don't" said Colin.
Carter gets Julia's attention. "Play bad guys?"
"No!" she shakes her head, "I'm riding this bike."
They talk to Alexander. "Play bad guys?"
"No, I don't" said Alexander.
Carter and Zach ask each of their classmates, but come to the shocking conclusion,
"Nobody wants to play bad guys, Ms. Maureen!"
"What can you do, Carter?", I responded.
"Well, I guess we can play by ourselves, right, Zach?"
"Yes!" agreed Zach and they were off and running. Just the two of them, yelling and laughing and racing around. Nobody else was drawn into the antics, nobody was pressured to join them. Amazing!

I have been thrilled by the children's absorption of these friendship skills. These visuals are posted in our room - a classroom "protocol" has been clearly established. Perhaps most importantly - I have leveled the playing field for all the quieter friends have words, a script, to move them out of voicelessness. My younger friends have words, a script, to get them playing with friends rather than alone. My rambunctious, demanding friends have words, a script, to slow them down. Everyone is learning that friendship requires respectful interaction - it takes two (or more!) to play. The children now see "You MUST play" is not respectful; you have to respect your friend's "no" just as much as the "yes."

Certainly, I could have simply made the rule that the children can't play this game. But, then, what are the children learning? Ms. Maureen has the power? It's really interesting (and invaluable) to consider what is going into the behavior - the why behind the behavior.

Not only am I seeing children behave in a more friendly manner with one another, I see children who are learning to self-regulate - to set limits on their own behavior.

It's really been exciting to watch.


  1. It is amazing to see these friendship skills at work. Lately I have felt a little tap on my shoulder... tap, tap tap, sometimes followed by a quiet, "excuse me mom". At first, not acknowledging or understanding, the gesture, I continue on with what I am doing, ... but there is a continual tap, tap, tap... followed by the "excuse me mom"... I finally notice Colin getting my attention. I am so used to the yelling of increasing decibels of "MOM"... "MOM" ..."MOMMY!!!!".... that the little tap on my shoulder goes unnoticed. I have now come to acknowledge the little tap and praise him for his quiet, yet successful attention getter. It has been truly amazing to see how a 3 year old can go from yelling MOM to a small tap on the shoulder.... most of the time (but don't get me wrong, there is the occasional, let it all out "MOMMY" to be heard in my house!). It is a work in progress for both Colin and myself.

  2. Thanks for commenting! As the Power of Peers trainers pointed out to me this past March, it's important that we always acknowledge our children's taps on the shoulder...we want to "reward" the good behavior. At school, when I'm in the midst of something else and can't give 100% attention just yet, I say, "I hear you, Colin (or whomever), and I will be with YOU next!" This seems to help.
    So good to hear that the children are using these skills at home!