Hi Nature Lovers,
Unstructured nature play inevitably involves some sort of physical injury, hurt feelings, or power struggle. And that's on a GOOD DAY! Building the strongest fort in the forest may involve a bumped head when your building partner swings around carrying a large branch. Collecting earthworms with a friend may turn into feelings of envy or frustration when they won't share their discoveries. As an educator or parent, our instinct is to step in, solve the conflict, and request the child at fault simply say "I"m sorry." And then everything is ok, right?
Over the years, I've seen the daily mantra of "Did you say you're sorry?" elegantly evolve into children running by the person they have hurt, chanting a half-hearted apology, and not giving it another thought. The game must go on! (I call this the Drive-by Apology. It's been mastered by children across the country and is coming to a play space near you!) Is this the response we want from our fellow adults when they hurt us? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Then why would we be satisfied with our little adults-in-training learning this method of conflict resolution?
What could follow an apology? Here are some guiding questions for you and your child.
- Is the person really feeling better after the apology? Pro Tip: If someone is still crying, bleeding, or pushed to the ground, they are NOT feeling better.
- How can I make them feel better? ASK! Usually a child will be able to communicate what they need to feel better when directly asked. If they need help communicating their needs, make some suggestions to get the ball rolling. A hug? A helping hand to get up from the ground? A bandage? The earthworm back in your bucket? A joke?
- Do you know what you are apologizing for? Many children don't realize how their bodies and words affect other people and may need to be guided through a recap of the incident and the consequences.
- How can we make sure this doesn't occur again? Have the child state specific, observable behavior changes to be made and make an effort to redirect actions in a language that communicates what they CAN do. "Instead of throwing branches to Kyle when we are building, I will hand them directly to her."
I know this may seem like a lot of conversation to have for every conflict that arises; however, if you invest time and effort now to teach children empathetic language and communication skills, you will be able to slowly step away from being the leader and guiding voice in redirecting behavior. You will be giving your children the independence, emotional intelligence, and confidence to resolve problems on their own! And this is reason #672 why PLAY IS IMPORTANT. LIFE SKILLS.