Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Lesson From A Grabby Kid

I have a once-a-month job for an hour at my church. I watch toddlers while their parents are in the worship service. Toddler-wrangling exposes human nature without the layers of social convention getting in the way. The kiddos have limited vocabulary and a narrow range of expression.

One lad is a hoarder. He's been recently adopted and I think he feels some uncertainty about losing possessions.

When my own children were small, I'd settle all "Mine!" arguments by tediously explaining who had ownership of the toy under dispute then handing it to the toy's owner. And I'd exhort the owner about the virtue of generosity and sharing. Then I'd find something else for the non-owner to play with. Everyone knew who owned what and nobody felt any uncertainty that they might lose it. Thus there was no need to violently retain possession of it.

(By the way, we settled all division of foodstuffs arguments with the simple, "I cut you choose," rule. In this the person who cuts must let the other choose which piece to take. This guaranteed a to-the-atom equal division when my daughter did the cutting.)

The reminder-of-ownership approach does not work in a group child-care setting where nobody--or everybody--has ownership of the toys. When the lad got grabby and was hoarding toy cars I could not remind him they were still his even if some other kid played with them for a bit.  He was standing next to a table with his back to the cars fending off the advances of another little boy who wanted to play with some of the cars he was hoarding.

I sat down beside him and started handing over cars that had fallen on the ground. I'd say, "have another one," and he'd take it and put it on the table, and I'd hand him another saying, "have another one." He'd put it on crowded-with-cars table and he didn't notice when other cars fell. I'd pick them up and hand them to him to complete the cycle. When kids are young enough they don't get tired after the thirtieth time. In fact, they are delighted by the repetitive action and words.

But I did get tired of the repetition and went on to other things.

Later the little hoarder got in a fight with another little boy about sharing toy cars. I intervened and separated the squabblers. And that's when I learned something.

I handed cars to the other kid and when his hands were full, I asked him to give one to the hoarder. He did. And I handed him another car. And another. We had this little daisy chain of cars passing between the three of us.

Unbidden, the hoarding boy said, "Thank you," to his former competitor and they started playing nicely together.

I don't think the grabby boy would hand over toy cars, but the other boy would, and by saturating the hoarder's acquisitive reflex we got the lad to actually start playing with the toy cars instead of just standing guard over them and keeping the other kids from playing with them.

I am told that Jiu Jitsu works by using the opponent's action against him. He pushes you and you pull him off-balance. He pulls you and you push him. This worked with the toddler's greed and I suppose that if you frame it correctly, it'll work with older kids and adults, too.

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