The Dumpling’s social development has always been a priority for jigg and me. Ensuring that she has regular interaction with other children was one of the main reasons why we started her at daycare when she was only six months old. Her caregivers have done an amazing job in teaching our daughter the concepts of playing together, asking for permission, sharing, ownership, and boundaries. As a result, the Dumpling generally gets along with most kids and holds her own on play dates.
There have been incidents when one child would act out aggressively towards the other because kids will be kids. The adults, however, would step in to right the transgression. Everyone [eventually] got along because of the mutual understanding that respect and cordiality would be enforced.
Playing in public areas, like the playground, is a totally different game. Unlike play dates, the environment is unstructured, and I have limited control over whom the Dumpling will be interacting with.
Last weekend, our family was in Boston where Grandma and I brought the Dumpling to the community playground. One family had set up a tiny inflatable pool in between sprinklers, but their kids have lost interest and were playing elsewhere. The Dumpling, of course, was naturally drawn to it. Every time she got close to their pool, however, the kids would quickly run back, shouted “Don’t touch my water!” and shooed my daughter away by aggressively kicking and splashing water.
The Dumpling would then run towards us for safety while the other kids returned to whatever they were playing with before. The kiddy pool was set up in the middle of the sprinklers, so there wasn’t an effective way to keep the Dumpling away. Within minutes, she would run back and the entire episode would start again. The kids continued splashing even after Grandma asked them to stop, and their guardians idly watched as everything unfolded.
I felt helpless and annoyed. These kids had every right not to share, and it was not my place to tell them otherwise…especially when their parents didn’t feel the need to. They were not bullies (otherwise my claws would have been out); they were just mean.
It was also difficult to explain to the Dumpling why she can’t play with their pool. While my daughter understood ownership, she was also taught that others would share if she politely asked. In return, she would do the same. Reciprocity formed the basis of the Dumpling’s understanding of social interactions. In an environment where everyone abided by the same rules, like at daycare or home, things worked out. “Playing nice”, however, is open to interpretations at the playground.
Luckily the Dumpling has not yet developed the self awareness to realize that the other kids didn’t want her around. Although there was no physical and emotional harm inflicted, it was difficult for me to watch other kids being mean to my own child. A small part of me (actually a huge part) wanted to run into the nearest store, buy the biggest and best inflatable pool money can get, set it up right next to theirs, and bar these brats from going anywhere near it.
I eventually calmed down and brought the Dumpling home. As much as I wanted to be vindicative, it wasn’t an example I wanted to set for my daughter. As recourse, Grandma set up a little bucket of water in the tub where the Dumpling had just as much fun as she did at the playground.