Three children play in the sandbox. Two are pushing trucks, moving sand out of the way as a road is formed. Another child stands nearby with an excavator. He watches the other two and tries digging where they have cleared. One of the bulldozer drivers is frustrated and tells him he can’t play with them.
Remember how we spoke of misunderstanding communication at this age? The bulldozer child sounds as if he’s being mean and the excavator child seems to be being destructive. However, neither of these is the case. The child with the excavator was carefully watching the other two children. He wanted to join in but didn’t have the language to find out how. Our friend with the bulldozer had the language to tell the excavator that he didn’t like what he was doing, but didn’t understand what the excavating child’s body language said of his motives. Neither child is yet adept at viewing a perspective beyond their own.
This is where play comes in as practice. An observant adult can join the group and help each member find out what they want from the situation. We can discuss together what the problem might be and find solutions. Practicing these conflict resolution strategies in play builds the communication skills children will need as they grow.
One of my favorite ways to help children communicate their needs while including others in play is by adding one word to a very common question. Instead of asking, “Can I play?”, try
“How can I play?”
Adding “how” creates a completely different dynamic.
***Note: The picture at the top of this article is from a previous day. It is not of the three children referred to in the story.*