We invite you to a very unique parenting class. In this class, parents have the opportunity to learn important parenting skills: objective observation, selective intervention, and how to foster independence in their children.
Rita, Olivia, and Chapin have been attending these classes with their parents for a while and they are comfortable with each other and the familiar environment.
Rita and Olivia have their own dynamic relationship. Sometimes during class, Olivia would walk to Rita and take an attractive item from Rita’s hands. This is typical behavior for toddlers at about fifteen-eighteen months. A typical response might involve telling the child, “Olivia, Rita was using the ball. You need to give it back.” or “Olivia, we need to share, we can’t grab whatever we want.”
At this class the teachers and parents will respond rather than react. A teacher might say, “It looks like Olivia likes that ring too.” She might suggest to Rita, “You can choose to hold on to that ring tightly.” The Teacher’s goal here is not to take sides with either child or rescue one of them. The Teacher might also verbalize to Olivia, “It looks like Rita really likes this ring. She is holding it tightly.” The teacher is stating what she sees and there is no judgement of either child’s behavior. The teacher will only intervene if the situation changes and is no longer safe, “This is Rita’s hair. I don’t want you to pull on her hair. You can touch gently.” The teacher might then model how to caress Olivia’s hair.
In this class, parents use a different approach when they help their children through the conflict. They seem comfortable and confident, but I wonder if the parents were asking themselves: Will this dynamic between the two girls stay the same? When will Rita learn to hold on tightly? When will Olivia choose to give?
Today Rita arrived to class first. She went straight to the three dolls sitting on the mat. Rita picked up the three dolls, gave them kisses, and carried them with her as she climbed up on the climbing structure. She walked down the slide still holding the three girls in her hand. Then, she found a blanket to cover one of the dolls.
Chapin and Olivia joined the class. Their moms found a comfortable spot to sit. When the two friends arrived to classroom, Rita put down 2 of the dolls on the floor, while she played with the third doll. Chapin picked up a doll and Rita came straight to him and retrieved the doll. He didn’t protest.
Olivia picked up one of the dolls from the floor and carried the doll to the pretend kitchen. Rita walked to Olivia and pulled the doll. The two girls struggled for a while. The doll ended up in Rita’s hand. Olivia landed on her bottom and then banged her head on the floor. Olivia cried and was comforted by her mother.
Rita seemed overwhelmed by the situation and began crying too. After a quick recovery the two girls exchanged the possession of the doll several times. At some point Olivia held the doll and Rita made a loud and unhappy sound; she protested. Her mother pointed out that there are two other dolls available on the floor, but Rita had no interest in those two at that moment. Chapin observed the situation with interest.
Olivia ran with the doll to the shelf, and placed the doll on top. As soon as Olivia noticed that Rita was moving in that direction, Olivia picked up the doll. Suddenly, Olivia turned around, walked to Rita, and gave her the doll. Rita gave the doll a big hug. Olivia sat on the ground and began placing balls in a tube. I told Olivia, “It was very thoughtful of you to give this doll to Rita. You noticed that Rita really wanted it.”
To me it looked like a very significant moment of discovery, learning, and empathy. It took more than one class for Rita to become assertive and to persist if she wants something. Likewise, it took many classes for Olivia to offer a toy to a crying friend. I was wondering what would happen if we as adults intervened in a more traditional way by protecting Rita and Chapin and making Olivia give up the toy. Would Olivia have learned to give or would she have felt more resentment? Would Rita have felt more safe or would she have felt that she needed an adult to resolve her problem and protect her?
Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!