Parenting at the Playgroup
When children get older and stronger, those petty skirmishes over toys or taking turns can become something much bigger than just two toddlers tussling. While we all have different parenting styles, playgroup needs to be a neutral ground with every parent on the same page in regard to guidelines for keeping children safe.
Part of this involves reshifting the group focus. At playgroup events, the focus must be on the children first and foremost. While we love to see other moms and socialize, the fact of the matter is that our children need constant attention for negotiating the many challenges that typically arise when groups of children are playing in the same space.
Parents must be within sight and sound of their child at all times. If you need to go out of the room, please ask another parent to watch your child. At this age, children need parental support for the social work of taking turns, asking to use another child's toy, and just being safe with their bodies and words. Leaving your child unattended does a disservice to both your child--who needs your coaching-- as well as other parents and children. Stay with your kid.
Taking turns within a group setting is tricky. Sometimes, we feel it isn't 'fair' if our child doesn't get to use a desired toy. Nonetheless, if a child is using a toy, it's worthwhile to consider letting them use those one or two toys until they are finished with it and ready to move on. If your child is waiting for a toy another child is using, try to help your child engage with a similar toy/activity instead of encouraging them to wait for their turn. While adults can cognitively understand "you can have it in 5 minutes", this may be more than what your child can manage. Sometimes, we don't all get a turn, but if we help our children move on, or are available to comfort disappointed feelings, our children are less likely to act out physically.
Hitting, biting, slapping, spitting, pinching, or hair-pulling are not allowed. All of these actions have the potential to seriously hurt another child. Parent presence, once again, can greatly reduce the possibility of children coming to blows with each other. If your child acts out physically toward another child, it is good to check in with the other child first, make amends (take your child with you while you get an ice pack or bandage) then see if play can be resumed. If, after one incident, it is apparent that your child is likely to hurt another child (they are still upset or acting out), the parent should take the child to a quieter area and stay with them until the child is calm and ready to go back to playing. Make this call by observing their actions, not words: children are more than happy to promise to play nice whether or not they are actually capable of this, so wait until your child is calm and then help them engage in a different activity if possible.
Make the call early. Don't stay longer than your child's ability to get along and play safely. For your child's sake, setting boundaries around what is acceptable and being consistent with them is the best way to go. If your child seems out of sorts and you suspect that the work of playgroup may be too much, it's better to skip it for the day. Children are impressed when we tell them "I see you aren't being safe with your body/choices today. We'll try playgroup on another day, when I see you are ready to cooperate." And then, stick with your choice. Likewise, if you find your child has seriously hurt another child (look at the other parent's face-- you'll know) or isn't cooperating, leave immediately and let your child know why. When we allow our children to hurt other children, this in fact sends a message that we aren't in charge, which our kids need us to be, and they can feel even more out of control than before.
Leave when you say you are going to leave. If you tell your child you are leaving, leave. "Second chances" usually results in the child having a second chance to hurt someone else. Likewise, the playgroup operates successfully on the premise that the children are willing to take direction from the other adults in the room; if your child is challenging their authority ("you can't make me" or "I don't have to listen to you", being rude, etc.), explain to your child that you are going home, and why, and that you'll try for a better playtime next time. This acts to enforce the authority of other parents, which they do need from you. In fact, this honoring of each other's authority is essential for a successful playgroup. And even when things are going well, long goodbyes are confusing to our children, so consider saying your farewells before transitioning your child out the door. Too often, tears and tantrums arise from tired children who are prepared to go home and now find themselves standing around, waiting for mom.
Your children need strong, loving parents to help them understand the limits and expectations of being in groups with other children. Our children thrive on positive expectations, and they do want to do well. When we understand that all children need coaching, support and discipline at playgroup, playtime is better for everyone.