We were at one of those “Mommy and Me” classes. He was three. My daughter was one.
They were “socializing,” as toddlers do, in the same corner of the room. The featured toys included a little bucket of blocks and a slightly bigger bucket of plastic animals, both of which were soon spread on the floor in a large pile. The game became to pick up the toys, place them into the buckets and then dump them back out again.
My one year old doesn’t take up a very big space footprint. She was content on the edge of the pile with a few small toys and the smaller bucket. The three year old, more mature and worldly as he was, soon realized that if he had a second bucket, he could dump the contents of one bucket into another bucket. Conveniently for him, my one year old had a bucket with a few toys already loaded into it.
Naturally, he went for it.
There had already been a few instances in which I had gently steered him in a new direction. For example, when he attempted to help himself to my daughter’s snack in our bag. So I saw it coming and gently blocked his attempts to grab her bucket.
“Oh sorry buddy. This is the bucket she is playing with right now. You can grab any of the toys from the pile on the floor instead.” (Priding myself on my calm toddler-teacher voice.)
The other times I had stepped in he had been fairly easily redirected.
Not this time.
He LUNGED for the bucket like it was his LIFE GOAL to dump those toys into his container.
Luckily, I am bigger than a three year old and this isn’t my first rodeo. So I continued to block his path.
“I’m sorry bud but she is playing with that right now. You’ll have to pick one of the other toys to play with.” (Again, rocking the super calm three-year-old voice.)
At which point, he ignored my perfectly reasonable suggestion and proceeds to HURL his entire body against me in a final, valiant attempt to get to what I have now come to assume was the holy grail of block containers.
So there I am, body blocking some stranger’s three year old in the midst of toddler play time, and I find myself wondering, “Is this really necessary?”
Honestly, my one year old is pretty chill. If he had stolen her bucket, she probably would have moved on. And maybe I should just let them play and figure it out themselves, you know?
Except I think that’s crap. It’s our job to teach kids to be decent human beings. Unfortunately, they don’t come out of the womb knowing that you can’t take something from someone else just because you want it. Or steal food out of a stranger’s bag. Or knock over people that are smaller than you when they are in your way.
Now please don’t misunderstand my point here. This isn’t a “parent your children” lecture. There have been plenty of times that my kids were jerks, for lack of a better word. And I’m sure that there has been more than one situation in which I should have jumped in to correct it and I didn’t, because I was oblivious or for some other reason. There isn’t a single one of us who is doing this parenting thing right all the time. And that’s OK.
All I ask is, when you look across the room at toddler time and see me body blocking your three year old, please know that I’m on your team. We are the team of people raising the next generation of humans.
And we want them to be good humans. Humans who take care of other people, especially if those humans are smaller than they are. We want them to be humans who treat other humans with respect. And compassion.
And to be completely honest, it’s not just about how they treat others, but also how they expect to be treated. I’m not just asking your three year old to respect my daughter’s space. I’m showing my daughter that she deserves to be treated with respect. I’m modeling for her how to ask for what she needs and deserves in a respectful way. I’m standing up for her so that one day she will learn to stand up for herself.
And don’t we all want that for our babies? For them to be good to others; but, most importantly, for them to know that they deserve for others to be good to them. Because they matter.
“It’s hard to teach them to play together well,” said the three-year-old’s mother when she arrived on the scene.
That’s probably true. But together, we can do it.
So here is my promise to you: I will body block your kid if necessary, to show him that his actions matter. And to show my daughter that how she is treated matters.
And I hope you will do the same for me.