ISN’T ANYONE GOING TO HELP HER?!

Bug has wanted a toy kitchen since he first set foot in the toddler room at church, and this was finally the year. The kitchen was the grand finale at my in-laws’ on Christmas morning and the kids went nuts. There was a brief honeymoon period during which they explored alongside each other, but then Bug decided to start cooking and, much like his mother, just wanted to be left alone in the kitchen to do his thing. We could all see Babygirl’s frustration starting to build as she stood back a few feet, reaching for the kitchen, her pleading whimpers of “Uh! Uh! Uh!” growing in both volume and angst as Bug continued putting a hand out to block her and explaining that she could not open the oven because he had something in there.

Finally, my father-in-law couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out what most of the room was thinking, “Isn’t anyone going to help her??”

I gave the slightest shake of my head to let the onlookers know that, no, I wanted to let this play out. I did, however, say, “You really want to play with the kitchen too. Bug has something in the oven and is asking you to wait. Waiting is hard.”

While continuing to block the kitchen with his body, Bug began to look around. Before I had time to wonder what for, he had found Babygirl’s lovey to help calm her while she waited. It worked and, before we knew it, Bug’s dinner was done cooking and he proudly served it to his sister who delighted in eating every imaginary bite (except for the ones that she shared with Gampy).

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This scenario is not an unfamiliar one and, every time it happens, I can feel the eyes of those around us (usually strangers at the park whose opinions I could stand to worry less about) turn to watch, not the kids, but me. What am I going to do about it? Am I raising my son to be an entitled jerk (an assumption that is only reinforced by his ever-present USC apparel)?  Am I raising my daughter to be a doormat? Don’t I want my kids to get along? and ISN’T ANYONE GOING TO HELP HER?!

And sometimes I do help. They are one and two years old, after all, and not equipped to resolve every conflict they find themselves in. Sometimes they really do need help. Other times, of course, they don’t and I make the mistake of stepping in anyway. But, this time I didn’t, and here is what I hope my children learned in that moment:

I am on their side. I am not on his side or her side. I side with both of them. I see the conflict and am ready to support them through it without allowing my agenda to determine who is “right,” who is “wrong,” and what is “fair.”  

I trust them to solve their own problems. I acknowledged the conflict, but I didn’t offer a solution. A parent wouldn’t have come up with the solution that Bug did because it doesn’t fit a formula where everything is “fair.” He didn’t acquiesce and give her a turn. He asked her to keep waiting. But in asking her to wait, he was able to look beyond himself and think about what would help his sister.

They are a team. When I abstain from stepping in and deciding who gets their way, sending the message that I see them as adversaries who need a mediator, they are able to work together instead of against each other to resolve a conflict. If I had intervened and told Bug that he needed to let his sister have a turn, sure, they might each have had a chance to play alone in the kitchen, but they would not have shared the giggle-filled moments of eating an imaginary Christmas brunch together.

I won’t always be around to help, so it’s important to me that my kids know they can help themselves and that, when they can’t, they have each other.

12 thoughts on “ISN’T ANYONE GOING TO HELP HER?!

  1. I love this. Good reminder for me to help my kids by letting them be sometimes.

    It’s heartbreaking to think how your Bug might have been confused and hurt had someone chastised him for how he decided to play with his kitchen.

    Thank you for this!

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  2. HI, can you help with a similar issue to this please? We have a small play stove. My children (2 &4) both love playing with it and generally they share well… Unless they decide not to, then there is no blocking or uh uh uh, it’s more ‘don’t touch my stuff’ ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh he touched my stuff’ ‘ or mummymummymummy, she pushed me’. There is no build up, just quiet playing then a quick eruption. I recognise each childs needs but need to stop this before it ends in physical fighting over the kitchen…

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    1. Hi Jen! When I’m unsure, I always default to “say what you see.” If 2 and 4 year old started struggling over the kitchen, I might say, “It seems like you each have a different plan of how to play in the kitchen. It looks like 2 is collecting all the plates. Can you tell me about what you’re doing, 4?” And then, after hearing/acknowledging each child’s “plan,” if they needed it, I might prompt, “Hmm…is there a way you can work together?” Sometimes, giving each the opportunity to explain their “plan” helps both feel like their process is valued while also allowing them to think of ways they can work together. One might think, “That does sound fun!” and abandon their idea to participate in the other, or in explaining what they’re doing, might have an idea of how the other could help.

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  3. Thanks, love this! And it’s a great reminder/validation of the route I usually take. I have 2.5 year old twin girls and often try to let them resolve conflict on their own. Sometimes it works, sometimes someone ends up crying, but generally they figure it out. Thank you for explaining that there is method to my madness. 🙂

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  4. While I agree with this approach, I struggle with how to handle physical aggression. For example, my 2-year-old daughter snatches something from my 4-year-old daughter. Older one drags the younger one to the ground to obtain prized item before I even have a chance to intervene. This is the point at which get stumped on the best way to handle the situation.

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    1. I am still really struggling with this as well. There’s nothing worse than seeing your baby get hurt by your other baby! I try to comfort my younger and model empathy. I often ask my son what he thinks might help his sister feel better (he’ll bring her lovey or a book, suggest a glass of water, etc) to help teach him to take action to repair a situation rather than just saying an empty, “I’m sorry” (which I never prompt). When things have cooled, I will sometimes ask my older one to tell me what happened. If I can identify the catalyst (she tried to knock down his blocks, he wasn’t finished reading, etc), I will ask my son what he could do instead next time x happens (tell her he isn’t finished, take the book to his room, ask me for help, etc). There’s quite a bit of trial and error going on over here..,

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  5. Nice thought, but mostly if I don’t intervene they will start whaling on each other. I have 5 and 8 year old boys. And since I don’t want them to end up like my husband (who was terribly abused by his older siblings because they were bigger) then I step in. They once rolled him up in a carpet and beat him with baseball bats. Sorry, this doesn’t work with everyone. Children can be inherently cruel and selfish.

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    1. How awful, Becky. I’m so sorry that your husband had to endure such an unhealthy sibling relationship. I always intervene to prevent (or, when I’m too late, to deal with) hitting/pushing/etc when it comes to that as well. Conflict, I’m fine with; violence, I’m not.

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