How do children play and how do they dispute?

Kids need idols and playmates to become socially competent. We need the Idols for orientation to learn how to do things ideally and we need the playmates to train with them the newly learned. Fighting, arguing and disputes are training and not a waste of time even if parents think it is.

Parallel games

Children need playmates. Even as little as 3 to 4 month old babies search the contact to other kids. They observe and learn. In the crawling stage they move closer and sit next to others so they can touch which often is a little rough.  About a year old they start to imitate each other and start to offer toys to the other kids. It appears that the kids play parallel but if you watch closely you can tell the other baby reacts, only that it is still time-delayed. It frustrates a lot if your partner has moved on and plays something else while you just understood what he wanted. That situation can lead to a tantrum or hissy fits. The parallel play is a way to try to contact other kids and get their attention.  At the age of 2 it is that kids are capable of coordinating their interests with the one of their playmate.

Play together

Around the second birthday children start to play meaningful together. They learn to agree on toys, games and can animate each other to continue and maintain a game for a longer time. They understand roll playing and they can agree to different characters. A lot of times they need the support and guidance of older kids or of their moms. For example: She took my book away! How to react if Sam takes Ken and puts him in the bath tub while Dorothy was changing his close? Most important…at first stay out of it and observe! It is still time to act if you see that the kids have no way to agree. It is most important not to solve the conflict. Helping with suggestions goes a long way: “Why don’t you sit together and look at the book? Ken needs to put his swimming trunks on before he can go to the pool!”  By playing with kids of the same age they learn to stand their ground, evaluate themselves and others. Playing they also lean to compromise and to cooperate with each other. They are laying the foundation for characteristics such as consideration, helpfulness/cooperativeness and compassion.

Trouble Spot: Property

A toddlers fight is mainly interpreted as a conflict of possession. Investigating scientists discovered that only about a third of those conflicts are based on possession. By the way a behavior that starts at the age of about 22 month.

Trouble Spot: Interruption

Example: Marcus is totally absorbed and fascinated by the law of physics that whenever he puts the ball on the ramp it rolls down by itself. Here comes Julian and almost immediately they fight. It is good if you had watched from the beginning how it happened. Now you can be impartial and instead of: Give that ball back to Marcus… you can say:  First it is Marcus turn and then yours.  “Marcus, would you please let Julian try it too”? It is important that kids are not disturbed when experimenting new things but an input form the other child can enrich the game.

Trouble Spot: Curiosity

Scientists have researched that about 20% of the children’s conflicts are produced by curiosity of an item someone is playing with.  On the contrary to “this is mine” curiosity is a learn process. Example: Sandra is sitting in the sand box filling her molds. She has pick out butterfly molds and has a considerable amount filled. Sofia watches her for a while and then comes over. She would like to try out if she can fill them too and maybe she has a different, more efficient way of doing it. Or maybe she knows how to turn them without losing too much sand?  The fight breaks out! Now it is you as a parent who has to help. First you have to slow down the conflict by showing that you understand, than you mediate. “I know you like to try it too, let’s wait together till Sandra has finished, or” Sandra, do you think one of you can fill and the other one turns the mold around”?

Regardless what the motive of the conflict is, in most cases the subject of it is an item. Items are considered learning objects. That makes sharing so difficult and it does not matter if the item is a toy or a pot and a wooden spoon.

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