Last Friday afternoon, my friend came over to visit with her two boys- an almost four years old and a fifteen months old. Let’s refer to her as Olivia, her older boy as Eric and her younger boy as Charlie. Lemon Cake has played with Eric on many other occasions at parks and Olivia’s home but they did not play regularly and frequently together. However, anytime they have been together, they played well and there were always lots of laughs and fun.
About forty five minutes into our play date, Lemon Cake and Eric started tugging back and forth over a car. I immediately stepped in and started intervening, giving Lemon Cake the language to use, coaxing him to take turn with the car…etc. Olivia put her hand on my knee gently and suggested, “Let’s stop intervening and see what happens.” Those words were glorious to my ears. It felt like a huge rock has been lifted off my chest.
As a parent who believes in minimalist intervention (in theory) I have yet to figure out how to actually not intervene when it comes to conflicts between Lemon Cake and his peers. It is difficult and complicated because every family has different rules/expectations for behaviors, and different interpretations of when a situation calls for intervention. Lemon Cake and Eric have similar levels of energies, interests, verbal skills and physicality, which makes them good partners in this “experiment”.
As expected, the conflict over the car accelerated. I was watching and sitting on my hands willing myself to not do or say anything. After all, this is what I want. I thought to myself, “As much as I believe in non-intervention, is this really going to work? Someone is about to get hurt or start crying.” At this moment, the ferocious tugging mixed in with some yelling between the two boys suddenly turned into laughter. They just started laughing like it has turned into a game. I couldn’t believe it. The entire interaction probably didn’t last more than fifteen seconds.
A while later, Lemon Cake started crying. (At this point Eric has cried twice so I was relieved that it was Lemon Cake’s turn to get upset.)Being the ever attentive mother that I am, I immediately threw myself over to offer hugs and comforting words, “Do you need a hug?” “Is your body hurt?” “Can you tell me where it hurts?” …etc. He cried with his back turned to me and did not respond to me once, as if he didn’t need my comfort. Eric started talking to him. I don’t remember if they were words of comfort or if it was about playing some other games, Lemon Cake broke into laughter and the incident was over just like that. It was a very successful minimalist intervention play date. The only times we had to intervene were when they were being rough with the pop up tent in Lemon Cake’s room, or when they were not careful enough around the little siblings.
I am keenly aware that it would not always go so smoothly like this play date even if both parents agree with minimalist intervention. A whole host of factors come into play; the children’s moods, energy levels, personalities, gender, indoor or outdoor play, are other children involved, are the parents “on the same page”…etc. The goal here is to be attuned to the children playing together and to observe before jumping to intervene. The goal here is not simply “don’t intervene”. I have been reading about “sportscasting” which I think would work well with conflicts that do need some guidance. Here is the link if you are interested:
I have started to do this only about a week ago even though I read this article a long time ago. Tried it once and didn’t work as the children were already in very heated conflict. I think it will take a lot of practice. I don’t know if it will work every time or if it will work at all. However, I do know that acknowledging each child’s feelings and wants always help in a conflict so it doesn’t hurt to try. When an adult swoops in to help, most often than not, there is judgment placed on the wrong doer. It also takes away a valuable learning opportunity for the children when they are constantly told, “share!” “be nice!” “don’t be mean!”
I will end this blog with another update to unlimited media experiment. It seems to be a pattern that Lemon Cake asks for more videos on the weekends. One of the weekend days he also got to watch the “Cars” movie which I would normally prohibit on week days especially in the mornings. I have also organized more easy and fun activities to help minimize video time. Today he barely watched two episodes, and he wanted to end the second one early so he can make pizza with me. He loves those coloring books that require invisible markers and would often eagerly do coloring after school instead of asking for videos. Water play is also a favorite- this is as simple as putting water in a big plastic basin, add some food coloring and various water toys. At this moment, I feel at ease about this experiment. Will keep you posted!