Dear Naomi, My 5 yr old daughter attends a weekly mixed-age homelearners gymnastics session - no instruction, just a free hour to play on the equipment. Most of the equipment can only accommodate 1 child at a time, so there is becoming an increasing struggle with "taking turns." Some of the children will form a line and wait, but some children will go in front of those waiting or stay on the equipment for what seems like a long time while the other children waiting are getting angry and frustrated and turning to the adults for guidance. The same thing happens at the park or wherever only 1 child can use the equipment at a time. How do I deal with this peacefully?
To be kind, we should either avoid putting children in situations they cannot handle, or, handle things for them. We make such careful choices at home all the time. Why withdraw support in a group situation? Or, why have a group activity if the children are not mature enough to handle themselves? Personally, I would vouch for gymnastics at home by providing a mat, a bar in the yard and other improvised fun body play tools. Or, make a much smaller group with those children who are able to share equipment fairly
and with older children as part of the group.
The funny thing is that the children, on their own, can most likely handle this situation, but parents’ presence prevents their action. If you do nothing or you produce no results, the child doesn’t dare to stand for herself either; she learns from you not to be assertive. I remember a group of children jumping on a trampoline at an intermission of one of my workshops. It became too crowded and not fun any more. Parents asked me what to do. I told them to wait. Within minutes we heard a rhythmic chanting by the older kids: Three at a time, three at a time. Most children sat on the edges and three kept bouncing and then they took turns. This was a demonstration of natural leadership. The children loved the rule and there was never a problem.
Many of the kindest parents are afraid to lead the way, thinking that it is not gentle or respectful. This is not true. Freedom does not mean license or lack of guidance. Without clear leadership life is less enjoyable and the child’s dignity is less respected. Those children waiting in line are frustrated and wonder why the parents don’t do anything or why they seem so helpless. The child who stays too long is also left confused, yearning for honesty and leadership. It is not rude to say to a child, “your time is over” and, if needed, pick him/her up and remove from the equipment (validate if crying.) But, with clear rules, created by the children, this would not be necessary.
Therefore, if the setting required the presence of adults then these adults should provide care. The class can be fair if you, parents, show up as the leaders the children need you to be. They can handle strict rules; in fact they love rules because of the feeling of security they provide.
The same applies to adults. No group activity works without guidelines. Try freedom on the roads or imagine an amusement park or a swimming pool without strict rules. Even the supermarket and the bank have strict behavioral expectations. We can only enjoy these places because our freedom is protected by clear rules.
You may want to reduce the number of participants (divide to two groups) and add a couple of older children who would be natural leaders. I suggest that the parents, or parents and children, get together for a meeting to create guidelines and rules to ensure fair use of the equipment and a system of keeping these rules. Children are amazing at coming up with such systems. This will not take the freedom away, but, on the contrary, will protect it and teach the children to honor themselves and others in peace.
Warmly, Naomi Aldort, www.AuthenticParent.com