Friday, March 18, 2016

I Have A Question For You



I have a question for you.

A few weeks ago, we played in our "balloon cage." One of my frustrations about what was otherwise a thrilling week of play was that so many of the children seemed to get a kick out of shoving balloons in my face, and even when I said, "I don't like that," most of them persisted, at least for a round our two. With several of the kids I had to say, "I don't like when you shove balloons in my face and you won't stop so I'm going away from you."

This is not a new phenomenon: it has pretty much been a part of the balloon cage from the start.

Our school is preparing to undergo a significant shift in how we fit into our current space. This means we'll be losing a lot of our storage. Part of the plan requires "editing" the collection. A place to start are our stuffed animals. We have several hundred, most of which live in boxes and bags awaiting a lice scare to be brought out of hiding. This week, I've been dumping them out on the checker board rug with the vague idea that the kids would help me sift the wheat from the chaff.

Perhaps you've guessed it, but one of my frustrations about what has otherwise been a thrilling week of play is that so many of the children seem to get a kick out of shoving stuffed animals in my face. And I'm not the only one: all the adults are having them shoved into their faces, as are the other kids who, for the most part, don't seem to mind. And it's not just the usually high spirited kids: those who are generally sweet and gentle are doing it as well.

Behavior, and especially this sort of community-wide behavior, has a root cause. My question is: what is it with wanting to shove soft things into people's faces?

I've wracked my brain trying to come up with a theory based on evolution or psychology or pedagogy or simple Skinnarian-ism, but I'm at a loss.

I can see that the children are choosing to shove relatively benign objects into my face, so that tells me they don't want to hurt me. If that were the case, I'd be getting blocks and screwdrivers shoved in my face. Indeed, the choice of balloons and stuffed animals suggests something else. But what?

I suppose this could be about their relationship with me or adults in general. Maybe they're trying to tell us to butt out, but that doesn't seem right. On the contrary, it most often seems to happen as a part of trying to connect: "Look at this teddy bear, Teacher Tom," "I found a penguin, Teacher Tom," "I'm going to eat you up, Teacher Tom!" And it's not just adults: they do it to each other, usually while wearing an expression of flush-faced joy.

Maybe it's just part of the natural process of learning about boundaries. Maybe it's about power.

I want to say it's just love expressing itself inappropriately and that is likely part of it, but there is something more primal there, I think, because so many of them do it. But I don't know, so I'm asking you:

Does this happen to you? Why do you think this happens?


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35 comments:

CallieRae said...

I feel like we, as a society, are often putting things into children's faces. Think about babies. We shake rattles in their faces, we make animals dance in their faces. If a baby isn't looking at what we want them to look at, then we move them to face it more directly .. or put it in their face. So maybe some part of it is that they learn it from us.

Anonymous said...

People are always shoving stuffed animals at babies to try and make them laugh. Most babies laugh....some do not. It's kind of like peek a boo with stuffed animals. It's silly and makes most kids laugh. They are learning about personal space and what is or is not comfortable for them AND for other people. As adults, we are always in the personal space of out babies....kissing, blowing rasberries, peek a booing. They are modeling the adults, yet adults (for the most part) don't get into each others personal spaces. As the kids get older and are told NO, they start respecting personal space. Some learn earlier than others ;(.

Jen said...

I wonder if it has to do with how people play with babies and very young toddlers. I often see adults display similar behaviour toward very young children when playing...

Jacqueline said...

It seems both these activities were introduced in a new and exciting way and maybe it can be overwhelming to them and they don't know how to act on that excitement quite right?

Judy Yero said...

Could you find a way to ask them why they do it? What it means to them when they do it?

Brett Gilland said...

I suspect it has to do with the disorienting sensation of having vision obscured being exciting, but that is 100% pure grade a conjecture.

Robin DeLamater said...

Jen's idea is exactly what popped into my mind.

Menollly said...

I wonder if it's related to our own compulsion to constantly kiss and cuddle the ones we love. But instead of putting their face on yours which is a)far away and b) a little dangerous for their face and c) something they've learned not to do, they're picking a puppet that can do that close up and physical connecting for them.

Anonymous said...

I feel like my kids always put things too close to my face when they are trying to show them to me. This does not however explain the lack of tools and blocks shoved in your face or really the ball pit as I am not sure why they would want to show you the balls unless it is because they are relatively novel because they are not out everyday. I just say "Wow I can see that so much better if you hold it here." And demonstrate a reasonable distance. Good Luck!

Gyan65 said...

I'm thinking along the same lines as Jen. As babies, and as small children, we've all experienced the toys in the face, blankets over the head, and even people right in our faces. Some of it has to do with the lack of a personal "bubble" (which we create as we get older) and some of it has to do with the close contact we crave as children. Children crave close contact and play, and naturally assume that all people are comfortable with that lack of personal space.

anaenriquez said...

No answers here, but I can say that my instinct when confronted with a plush, anthropomorphic toy, is to make it “talk” to whoever is with me. And somehow holding the toy up to the person’s face is usually part of that. Even though I’m an adult and my audience almost always is too.

I can’t say that I have the same feeling about balloons though.

HoldingPatterns said...

Yep, I think it is about power and boundaries, playing at those situations to learn for the future. I couldn't say more than you already have. As you said, the fact that the objects are soft and silly proves it is a safe way to play out the dynamics of boundary testing.

I watched the little kids movie "Monkey Kingdom" (and, perhaps this isn't extendable, but it popped in my head) when the little monkey child of a lower status female would "bug" the older monkeys he would get hit or pushed away. But when the little monkey of the ruling females tried the same, it was tolerated.

As always, thank you for your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

I was just going to say the same thing Jen did. I think it's pretty common for adults to do it to babies.

Dianne said...

Have you seen the to show Ellen - she likes to scare people - the people don't like it - but she still does - same thing - it's fun to torment people - just go with it

Melissa said...

I'm guessing it's something similar to what Jen has posited; young children typically have soft things shoved in their faces by well-meaning and playful adults basically from birth. Is it possible they are playing the way that "we" have taught them to play?

Lisa S said...

Have you asked them? There's a good chance they won't have a real reason, but maybe you'll get some insight.

Roxanne McCafferty said...

I agree, it sounds like mimicking adult play with children and particularly infants to me

Anonymous said...

It is possible that this is how adults 'play' with babies, as Jen said above, and so toddlers and preschoolers are mimicking that behavior. Also, my toddler does it to me- with books, toys, animals, etc. And I believe that she doesn't realize that it hurts my eyes, and feels intrusive unless I tell her. So it becomes a lesson in patience for me, and personal boundaries for her.

Jenni Fennerl said...

I have asked myself the same question. Why do the stuffed animals seem to bring out such invasive play? These are the only items that kids will put in each other's faces. It's almost guaranteed! I wonder if we asked the kids...

Tom said...

Hooray, a question! Since you follow the children's questions, I wonder if they will follow yours. Since you probably have challenged children to represent their experiences by drawing or painting, etc., I wonder what would happen if you came to a meeting with the children with a drawing of you being face-shoved.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a mix between their need for sensory experiences and under-developed perspective-taking? "My friends and I LOVE shoving these things in our faces (feeling, seeing, smelling, etc.), so the adults will love it too!"

Pixie said...

I'm wondering whether it's a connection to how children relate to attachment toys and things they love. They want to get those loved soft things (and people) right up against their cheeks, snuffle their noses in it. Maybe they're trying to give us something they perceive as a sensory pleasure, given all the senses it hits to have something right up in your face, but haven't necessarily grasped the external perspective that maybe it's not so pleasurable for others. Maybe it's a matter of visual perspective too, that they don't realise how close to your face it is and that you can't see when something's that close to your eyes.

I really don't know. But they definitely do it to me too.

Beth said...

What a great question!!! Yes, it happens very often, and yes, it is with a variety of ages and personality types. So perhaps the question I have is, 'Why in our face?' Why is the target area the face? I have often suspected it has something to do with 'direct focus', in a few ways. One way is the concept that they achieve getting our eyes laid directly on them in response to this action, which is a natural reaction. And who wouldn't want that in a group setting? Another way of direct focus is the connection. The face, and more specifically the eyes are a direct connection to ones' soul, I feel. There is a deeper connection when we connect through our eyes. So perhaps getting in that general space is an attempt to have an immediate, closer connection in this group setting thing??? hmmmmmm.......

Lindsay said...

This happened to me with my 3 year old today. I explained to her that I didn't like having a balloon shoved into my face, and she seemed so surprised. Maybe it is left over from when babies put everything in their mouths, and they think that everyone needs to have exciting/interesting things that close so they can do the same even though they don't explore things in that way anymore?

Tina said...

I'm not sure however I want to know the answer as well! I agree with the previous comment though as I also see adults play with babies & young toddlers by what must seem like to the babies and toddlers as adults shoving soft toys in their faces.

Maureen Wagner said...

I was thinking the same thing as Jen. I've seen adults interacting with a baby and a stuffed toy, or such, by wiggling it close to the baby's face with a "I'm going to kiss you all over" or "I'm going to eat you up" kind of talk. Is it learned behaviour?

Alyssa said...

I wonder if it comes out of a desire for attention? Putting something in your face forces you to pay attention to it and to them. Which I think may be related to what Jen said - as adults we often don't respect children's personal space so they haven't learned that getting right in someone's face is a (usually) rude behavior? I've noticed, as a 1st grade teacher, this desire/respect for personal space has developed in some of my students, but not others. Which lends itself to some interesting conversations as one child leans farther and farther away, while the other, oblivious, continues to close the gap between them.

Florabel said...

I was going to suggest the same Jen... Perhaps children recall adults doing the same to them with soft toys when they were babies. Makes me wonder why adults to that to infants?! Do we think they need a soft toy that close to their face in order to see it?

Tiger Spot said...

My three-year-old shoves things in my face when she wants me to look at them. It seems to be because she doesn't have a very good idea of where my eyes can focus, so she figures closer is better. I'm not sure if that's the same behavior exactly.

Holly said...

I second what Jen said. Adults do a lot of "this thing is coming to get you" and "look at this thing, LOOK AT IT!" Perhaps it's an imitation of that.

My first guess, however, was exploring the soft-squishy qualities of said items. Think of hugging a soft pillow or blanket to your face. Could it be more along the lines of wanting to share that gentle-soft feeling with someone they love?

Mary Bushkar said...

That's the first thing I thought too!

Mary Bushkar said...

That's the first thing I thought too!

JANE said...

I HAD THE SAME THOUGHT. IT IS VERY COMMON TO SEE ADULTS PLAYING WITH STUFFED ANIMALS BY PRETENDING THE STUFFY IS TICKLING THEM OR GIVING THEM KISSES. I HAVE BEEN GUILTY OF THIS MYSELF A TIME OR TWO!

Emily Parr said...

I had the same thought as Jen!

Anonymous said...

You've got me hooked now. You may need to gather more datapoints about what is/isn't shoved.

The size and shape could be important. Balloons and many stuffed animals are bigger than faces, or big enough to obscure your vision, but a hand tool probably wouldn't be.

The weight/density could be a factor. To put something in an adult's face means the object needs to be light enough and controllable enough that they can lift it in their hand without dropping it.

Do they do the same thing to peers? To just certain peers? What is their facial expression and body posture when they put things in your face? What kind of reaction do they seem to expect/enjoy, and what reactions from you leave them frustrated?

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