Building Cooperation at the Playground?

Our young children are exuberant when the summer sunshine fills the air.  Running, shouting, sliding, digging, swimming, jumping . . . cooperating?

Parents remember that rush of freedom when we as children were finally able to spend those lazy days at the playground or the community pool.  We remember the long afternoons of playing together with the neighborhood kids and the thrill of feeling unbridled by responsibilities.  We want our children to have that same sense of summertime freedom, but we also need to temper that with our expectations for appropriate behavior.  If we were able to REALLY look back on the “good old days” we would remember that it wasn’t all just fun and games–we still had chores and routines and bedtimes and the opportunity to experience discipline when we pushed the limits too far.

In the words of one wise woman I know, a child’s summertime experience should be like that of lying in a hammock. The child is able to lay suspended and feel as though he is floating in the summertime breeze of carefree cloud watching.  However, that hammock needs to be suspended between two strong trees.  The trees are what keeps the child secure in his floaty dreaminess and also grounded to the expectations of the world around him.  If the trees that hold the hammock are not strong and tall, the suspension of the child comes crashing down with a rude bump!

How to build cooperation and maintain an expectation of positive behavior throughout these months?  The early childhood staff at Hopkins have access to some helpful hints provided through the Family Information Services organization.  Use these techniques to help your family work together to build cooperation into your lifestyle.

1. When observing a problem, make a simple statement and wait for your child to respond. (They often do!)
Example: “Your crayons are on the floor” or “Your hands are so dirty from playing in the garden.”

2. Use grandma’s rule:  You may _____________ after you ________________.
Example: “You may play outside with your friends after you have cleared your plate from the table.”

3. Give clear instructions. Be more explicit than you would be with an adult.
Example: Rather than “Get ready to go” say “But your sandals on, put your hat on your head, and pick up your beach bag.”

4. Give a choice.  Allow for just two options. Be willing to accept either option.
Example: “Would you like to read a book under that tree or here on the blanket?”

5. Make it brief–limit your request to just a few words.
Example: “Let’s pick up your blocks.” or “We will leave the park after one more slide.”

6. Make something talk–use a funny puppet voice.
Example:  “I’m such a lonely beach shovel, I wish I could sit inside my beach bucket!”

7. When you say it is time to go, mean it.  Offer a warning about the impending departure, and then follow through.
Example: “We will leave the park after I push you on the swing three more times.  3…..2…….1. Time to go. I know it is sad to leave the park.”

8. Ask helpful questions. Children feel competent (and cooperative) when they can demonstrate they know the answer.
Example: “There is spilled lemonade on the table. How will we solve this problem?”

9. Use humor.
Example: Sing a silly song about what you would like the child to do.  Suggest both you and the child “dance” or “hop” or “wiggle” your way through a task

10. Stick to your routine as best you can.  Summer requires flexibility, but children also need to feel a certain amount of consistency throughout their day to feel secure about what to expect.  Feeling better allows children to act better.
Example: “We are having such a great time on our nature walk. We are going inside after we collect one more leaf because it is nap time.”

Enjoy your summer, and help your child to enjoy themselves too by balancing the freedom of this wonderful season with the expectation of cooperation with your family’s limits, rules, and routines.

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