Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Changing the Rules

“What would you do if child likes playing certain games outside the house, but whenever you do, a neighbor child comes over to play along and takes over the game and only wants to play *hir* way, not the way of the child whose game s/he invited hirself to play? This could be flipped around, too. What if one's child is the kid who changes the rules of other kids' games, sometimes against the other kids' wishes? Intervene or no? If so, how?”
-- P.F.

I think it never hurts to just ask, you know?

“Is everybody having fun?”

“How’s the game going?”

"Anybody need any help?"

And I don’t recommend all of these questions, or any of them, necessarily. It’s the idea of checking in with the people who are actually involved in the situation that I think is important.

And then, when you’ve gotten your answer (or been politely ignored cuz they’re both mesmerized by the game) the way forward in that moment will be clear.

In either situation, I think it also makes sense to talk to your own child out of the moment. Figuring out how to ask open-ended questions is important. For instance, “don’t you hate it when Billy Bob takes over your game and only wants to play HIS way?” Is a very different question than “how did you like the game you and Billy Bob played today?”

I think, though, that at the crux of this question is a parental fear of bullying. And I think it is important to address bullying as a potential issue. The key, I think, is separating out what the parent is overlaying on the situation due to the parent’s history from what is actually happening in the situation.

Some thoughts about that… If your child is genuinely happy having a “leader” to play with, that isn’t a problem as long as (and I think this is important) the child knows lots of other children and isn’t stuck with one friend, and the child knows how to say “no, I don’t want to play that way” if, in fact, the leader is pushing the game to unwanted places. On the flip side, it isn’t a bad thing for a person to have strong ideas about how they spend their time, as long as those ideas are not being forced on other people against their will. In that case, I think it makes sense to talk about or roleplay scenarios where the other child doesn’t want to keep playing – what happens then? How does one gracefully change the rules to accommodate everyone's interests? Or, if that isn’t wanted, how does one gracefully part ways for a time?

The bottom line, for me, is simply that changing the rules can be a very good thing, as long as the changes lead to more enjoyment. If the changes are creating discord or unhappiness, then other solutions need to be found.

Ah, I just re-read and was struck by one more important thought – if your child doesn’t want the other child to take over, and isn’t comfortable voicing that to the other child, then I believe it is the parent’s responsibility to simply, kindly tell the other child “we want to do this our way today. These are our rules, and we aren’t changing them today.” And, flipping the scenario, if it is obvious that the other child does not want to have the rules changed, I think it is the parent’s responsibility to simply, kindly tell her own child “he doesn’t want us to change the rules for his game. Should we play our own game with those rules, or do you want to try Billy Bob’s game with his rules, or should we go out for ice cream?” As always, I do not recommend using my words as a script – I’m just putting them out here as a quick and easy way to illustrate the kind of connection I find most useful. You know your child and the neighbor far better than I do!

I hope something here helps!

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