Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Hey! This Is My Game!"

"Hey! This is my game!"

"We're playing too."

There was a pause. You could tell he was wrestling with his options. Then he replied, "Well, I guess it's our game . . ."

It happened in an instant. It could have gone a different way, escalating into yelling, even hitting, but this is how it normally goes for most of the kids, most days. We remember the times we had to intervene, stepping in as adults to help settle things, and it is the memory of those rarer incidents that so often causes us to step in too soon, but in my experience children will most often choose a peaceful solution when allowed to talk it through on their own.

Earlier in the day, one girl was rolling out all the play dough. As she did, other children gathered around, saying, "I need some play dough" and "She has all the play dough." I was sitting right there, but said nothing, letting the words of sink in, giving the girl time to reflect on what they were saying. There was a time when I might have made suggestions, evoking the word "share," interrupting an important thought process to replace it with a kind of imbalanced power struggle between adult and child: one of reaction instead of contemplation.

Instead, I said nothing, leaving her to consider the situation without the threat of compulsion. It took several minutes for her to think it though, more time than well-intentioned adults typically allow. She wore a look of concentration, as if focused on the work of rolling out all that dough, but I knew she was thinking of her classmate's words, juggling her options. She could have shouted, "Mine!" and she might have had someone made a grab or had I inserted myself, but instead, after what felt like a long time, she began breaking off fists full of the stuff to pass around the table.

I've come to the conclusion that this is what humans are designed for and that every instance of turf-protecting selfishness is evidence not of flawed human nature, but of a flawed society, one that values stuff or power or money or winning over relationships. When I don't step between the children, I more often than not find myself in awe of their natural inclination to seek agreement, to understand that this is not my game, but rather our game.

"Well, I guess it's our game," he said thoughtfully, then shifted gears, beaming with his own brilliance, "Let's build a castle!"

"Yeah! I can be the princess Mama, you can be the princess daughter, and you can be the princess Dada!"

"We have to make it big enough for all of us!"

They worked together for several minutes, excitedly, doing what humans are meant to do, weaving their world from invitation and agreement. Then, as so often happens, another child inadvertently toppled one of their castle's towers. There was an outcry. "You knocked over our tower! Hey!"

This is when I could have intervened again, but games like this are not so fragile, and soon there were four of them living in that castle.

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