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Lessons For The Sandbox And Beyond

Updated on April 24, 2015

Do we leave the sandbox, or does the sandbox just get bigger?

There are some aspects of human nature and the human experience that seem to remain constant throughout life. What changes over time is our ability to interpret social situations and adapt our behavior to that of the accepted and expected norm.

Some of the challenges children face on the playground are the same challenges we continue to tackle as adults. With this understanding, parents can do more than just mediate squabbles, they can guide their children, helping them gain perspective and develop skills that translate into success in the sandbox and beyond.

Polite, But No Pushover

A courteous, well mannered child not only gets along well with their peers, but is appreciated by people of all ages. Children as young as toddlers can learn the difference between demanding "more", and asking for "more, please." Preschoolers are able to learn to share and take turns, and by the time a child enters elementary school, they are able to understand how to make compromises to accommodate the needs of others .

While parents should endeavor to instill good manners, no child should feel like they always have to be last, or that their idea for a game is never good enough. Children need to be equipped to know when it is appropriate to be assertive.

For example, Howard has been waiting for a turn on the swing. Each time he starts to head toward an open swing, another child runs ahead and grabs for it. Howard can either spend his recess time politely watching everyone else swing, or he can politely inform the next child that grabs an open swing, that he has been waiting, and it's now his turn. Does this insure that Howard will be rewarded with the swing? No, but it does assure Howard that he can speak up for himself, which is the only way he will ever get to swing.

Encouraging good behavior includes instilling confidence. Children need to have the confidence to stand up for what is right for themselves and for others.

People of all ages need to remember that being polite doesn't mean one consistently steps aside or gives up. We can put others first, without losing ourselves.


Where Is The Win

Abby lost her place in line while tying her shoe. Should she ask the person who was behind her to let her back in line, or simply go to the back of the line?

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Tattletale or Hero

Nobody likes a tattletale. However, children tattle quite often. "Eddie picked his nose!" "Jill licked the window!" "Skyler got out of bed!" On and on it goes. Some children are natural reporters, and feel compelled to relate all that they have observed. Some have a strong sense of justice, they don't want anyone to get away with anything that they wouldn't dare try. Others deliberately tattle in hopes of getting another child in trouble. Regardless of the motive, perpetual tattletales are not trusted by their peers, and often frustrate adults.

However, some things need to be told. "Annie is playing with matches!" "Brad is on top of the ladder!" "Avery opened the vitamins!" These are activities we want children to tell us immediately.

Children need to understand the difference between tattling and telling. Parents can help their children differentiate by challenging their child to answer the question, "Is anybody going to be hurt?" before deciding to tell what another person is doing. Another question your child should answer before telling information is, "Will something of value be broken?"This exercise helps children evaluate and discern the difference between tattling, "Sharon is throwing leaves!" and telling, "Sharon is throwing rocks!"

Children should feel free to tell others about things that are important to them. A child running into the house declaring, "Sharon is throwing leaves!" is probably looking for someone to take action to stop Sharon from throwing leaves. However, a child entering the house stating, "Sharon threw leaves on me" may be looking to get Sharon into trouble, and the tattle should be dismissed. However, the child may simply be sharing an experience. Statements such as these are opportunities for parents to talk about issues or experiences that are important to their child.

While training children to discriminate between tattling and telling, parents should be careful not to quash or distort a child's sense of justice. As we grow older, it can be hard to come forward and provide vital information, "ratting people out" has a negative connotation. However, whistle-blowers regularly save lives, and help protect the welfare of others. We want our children to understand that speaking up for the welfare of others is heroic, even if not always popular.

The Tattling Song

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Batman vs Superman

Though their life experiences are limited, children have strong opinions and ideas about a wide variety of things. Often times, disagreements arise and the calm of the playroom erupts into repeated chants of "Is not!" answered by, "Is too!"

Most of these disagreements are nothing more than a difference in opinion. Blue is the best color. Butterflies are prettier than rainbows. Batman is better than Superman. These types of statements can lead to heated debates that have no winners, because there are no absolute proofs to support either position.

Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but this is a hard concept for children to grasp. Because they feel strongly about their own preferences and ideas, they're sure they are right and the other person is wrong. In a way, they are correct, since what they feel is right for them. It can be helpful to reenforce this idea when disagreements occur. If Alicia is arguing that blue is the best color and Gary is disagreeing in favor of orange, it can be pointed out that blue is best for Alicia, and orange is best of Gary. Everybody wins!

The conflicts that arise from unwinnable disagreements are not relegated to the school yard. This type of argument follows us throughout life. Does the toilet paper go over or under the roll? Are you supposed to squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom or the middle of the tube? Should you fold your socks or roll your socks?

Everyone comes to the debate armed with reasons for their preferences and logic to support their choices, but at the end of the day, there are still no absolute answers. We all have to reconcile with the fact that failing to change another person's mind doesn't invalidate our own opinion.

Parents can help their child grasp this concept by assuring them that they don't have to change anyone's mind to validate their own opinions. We don't have to agree, but we do have to respect others, and acknowledge everyone's right to possess their own ideas.

It's raining! No, it's sprinkling!

Foundation Blocks

By teaching children how to be polite without being a pushover, parents equip their children to work well with their peers, without losing sight of their own interests. By discouraging tattling, yet encouraging telling, parents help teach discretion. And by instilling the ability to be hold on to one's own opinions without feeling the need to change that of others, parents ready their children to manage conflict throughout life. All of these skills make both the sandbox, and the world at large, a happier place to play.

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