Saturday, July 14, 2007

Social lesson

So we're at Chapters the other day, because I wanted a Starbucks tall latte.

Near the kids section there was a big table set up full of Thomas the Tank Engine railroad toys.

Benjamin likes Thomas. It's one of few, branded toys he recognized and even has a shirt-pant set he likes to wear.

Anyway, he quietly starts playing with the trains. He's so relaxed and so gentle with the toys that I can actually venture about a bit and browse some of the book shelves.

After a while, I sit in a chair nearby and watch my toddler play. A girl of about 6 or 7 comes by and starts playing alongside with him, rather aggressively. At one point, Benjamin's train, which by this time is rather long, falls off the table and he sits down on the floor and tries to put it back together before putting it back on the table.

The girl skips over him and generally ignores him.

Ben is intrigued. He watches her with wide eyes and continues about his business.

I turn to my latte and my book and keep half an eye and half an ear on him.

Suddenly, through my peripheral vision, I see her grab one toy out of Ben's hands and start playing with it.

Ben stares at me and almost, but not quite, starts to cry. His huge brown eyes are filled with tears but he's very brave.

He doesn't reach back for the toy or show any aggression whatsoever.

I say very quietly to the girl, who is standing with her back to me about 3 feet away, "did you just take that toy out of his hand"?

She turns, gives me the most vile stare, and throws the toy back at Ben and runs off to find her mom.

All returns to normal.

A little while later a fat woman comes back carrying the same girl. She glances in my general direction, notices the size of the kid at the table, realizes he's only 2, and says loudly enough for the rest of us to hear that "we all have to share toys". Then she marches her fat self off carrying her vile girl with her.

This situation makes me reflect back on the zoo woman who snatched her son's bottle out of his hands. Did the girl at the Chapters take the toy from Ben because that is what her mother does to her? Or is it just because that is how she is, or how she was taught? That aggression gets you what you want?

At Ben's Montessori daycare they teach the children to not take materials away from each other, but to exercise patience and wait until the material has been put back in its original place. The teachers' prime responsibility there is to protect the engrossed child from such aggressive behaviour in order to encourage prime learning and concentration.

At home, we teach and make every effort to set examples in "my turn, your turn" exercises. We ask for help or encourage sharing.

It's not without challenge, but the kind of behaviour that girl at the store demonstrated is what scares me for Ben. Will this be what he will encounter on a regular basis as soon as he joins the 'public' system?

I hope to be able to keep him in the Montessori environment until he's old enough to start school. If not, well, we'll have to cross that bridge when it happens.

Interestingly, after the girl left the store, a mother and her 2 and a half year old boy showed up. The boy wanted to play with Benjamin's train set, and since Ben had managed to put almost all the trains together to form a really long one, I interrupted my relaxation pose and helped Ben share his train with the boy.

The boy wasn't interested in obtaining half of Ben's toys.

He wanted the one that Ben had.

His mother tried to talk to him and reason with him, but the boy started screaming, so she gave up right away.

I tried to show the two kids how to do an exchange, "you play with this one, he plays with that one, we'll take turns", and although Ben wasn't totally on board, he tolerated it, and even handed over his trains. The boy however was very loud, very obnoxious, and absolutely not interested in any sharing. The mother just laughed it off and wandered if the entire ordeal wasn't her concern.

She was clearly frustrated at her boy's inability to listen to reason. She chalked it up to "boys will be boys", and "you know how toddlers are".

Well. My toddler wasn't behaving that way, and I was very proud of him. I told him that he was a good boy for sharing, or trying to share, even though the other kids weren't interested.

I praised him for being brave, not crying, and not making a fuss.

He certainly knows how to make a fuss, but so far he's exhibited that kind of behaviour mostly for our own benefit, in the comforts of our home/neighbourhood/family setting. Rarely in public.

Since it was impossible to do anything with the little boy, or his mother, and since Benjamin had spent more than half an hour playing by himself, I was able to distract him enough to wander over to the book shelf filled with truck books. And fire engine books. And tractor books.

We sat and looked at books for a good 15 minutes, then I had to pee.

That was the end of our day.

And probably a very interesting lesson for Ben, socially speaking.

1 comment:

Chelle said...

As a mom and a Montessori teacher, I am constantly amazed at the severe lack of parenting one comes across these days. My son, like yours, has had lessons in sharing, taking turns, and patience. Now, at age 11, he's the child everyone praises and is amazed at how good he is. Why? Because I cared enough to teach him to be a caring and responsible person.

It upsets me when I see the perfectly well-behaved, normalized children in my classroom, turn into such ill-mannered ones when schools out. All the respect and expected behaviours fly out the window once mom comes to pick them up. Why? Because they can get away with it. Why? Because mom's too busy talking to other mom's to look her children in the eye and say "I'm sorry, that's not appropriate."

Our job as a parent is to guide children, not let them walk all over us, and certainly not to rely on other's do to the job we signed up for when we had them.

Kudos to you for a job well done!