A few weeks ago, The Goose and I were at the park when we ran into a few kids he knew from school. They were all playing together nicely – until a game of tag broke out. The Goose, being the youngest and most inexperienced tag player, was the first one to be ‘it’. Everything was fine until I noticed something that really irked me – every time The Goose would get close to tagging one of the other kids, they would quickly yell “Time out!” and declare that he couldn’t tag them.
In this situation I had two choices. I could speak up and tell the kids that they weren’t playing fair. Or, I could sit down and let the kids work it out on their own.
I make it a point, each and every day, to teach The Goose to always be kind and to always be fair with everyone he meets. I teach him by demonstrating kindness and fairness in my everyday interactions with other people. I teach him by explaining to him that the way he treats people – whether he treats them nicely or poorly – can affect them for a long time. And I teach him by treating him kindly and fairly, too.
So, as I watched as the older kids took advantage of the littlest one time and time again, I found myself getting more and more upset. And I began thinking – what would I do if I were to see my son treating another child this way? Would I sit quietly by and watch it happen or would I stand up for the little guy?
What would I do if it was my child treating other kids unfairly?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer that kids really need to learn how to work problems out on their own. Doing so gives them great negotiation skills, coping skills, and helps them learn how to navigate a world in which everything isn’t always equal…
But – and this is a big one – they are just kids. And kids need guidance. Sometimes kids do something they know isn’t right just to see how long they can get away with it before an adult notices. Their job is to test limits, and it is a parent’s job to set them.
In the case of the unfair hide and seek game, I watched for nearly 15 minutes before speaking up, waiting for the kids to realize that they were being unfair. Every time they would shout “Time out!” they’d give me a sideways glance to see if I was going to say anything. And for a long time, I didn’t.
But, as soon as I did speak up their behavior immediately changed. It was as though each of the kids knew in their heart they weren’t playing fair, but they didn’t want to be the one to speak up. And when the oldest of the kids announced that there would no longer be any time outs, the other kids all looked a bit relieved.
When I do have to speak up, I’m always careful not to use any names or to call attention to any one person. I usually will say something like “We are all playing nicely together, right?” or “Everybody is taking turns and playing fair, right?”
And that was that. The game went on. The Goose wasn’t the only kid who was “it” and everyone continued to have fun.
This time, deciding to interrupt playtime was the right choice – and the rest of the day was better because of it.