It's 9:00 Saturday morning. The stores in the mall don't open for another hour, but families with small children are having a good time at the indoor play area. It's a mellow group this morning, with nearly all the children under four years of age.
Clara begins climbing around, running back to us every few minutes to offer a hug or a thumbs up. "I want to be friends with that girl!" she tells us, pointing to someone half her age. "You could ask her if she wants to be your friend." Clara pauses for just a moment and then heads directly to the little girl, who is standing with her mom and dad. "Do you want to be my friend?" Clara asks. She attempts to play with the girl, but the girl is just not interested. Eventually, Clara settles into a game of hide-and-seek with a couple of kids twice her age. I'm so proud of her for being outgoing. I don't think I've ever gone up to strangers to ask if they'd be my friend or if I could play with them. Isn't it amazing that a shy, introverted parent like me could be raising an outgoing, extroverted child?
With Clara settled into a game with other kids, I'm free to watch the people around me. I love to watch parents play with their children. It seems rare that parents are actually engaged with their children at play areas; I often find them focused on their phones. This morning, though, I don't see phones out. Some parents are playing chase, most are assisting with climbing and jumping, some are visiting with friends.
Suddenly, the mom sitting next to me darts across the play area and swoops up her 1-year-old who is crying. The way she leapt up was alarming. I scan the child for blood. None. Another mom joins the crying child. I infer that her son pushed or kicked the 1-year-old. The offender is obviously in trouble. His mom swats at him and sends him to the bench. After several minutes, the offending boy comes back with his mom and says, "Owen sorry." He is thanked for his apology. "Own sorry," he repeats two or three more times.
Now I'm watching Owen. He appears to be 4 or 5 years old, though his speech sounded like a 2 year old. He is not engaged with any other children; just runs around the play equipment, nudging any child he happens by. An elbow here, a little kick there...Eventually, his mom yells "Owen!" across the play area. His dad marches over to him and pulls him back to the bench. I'm glad that the parents are watching him, but sad that they aren't teaching him how to behave. When he is allowed to play again, he runs past four kids without touching them. I want to run over and congratulate him! What Owen needs is an adult "shadow" to model playing. Someone to show him how to talk to other kids. Someone to keep him engaged in an activity so he doesn't have the opportunity to hurt someone else. Most of all, he needs tons of positive attention.
Tune in for PART 3 tomorrow...