Sneaky Toy-Snatching

You never stop learning as a child care provider. There is always some new trick (or old trick but new to you) or different way to handle a situation, no matter how many years you’ve been doing this. I learned a new one from Carol yesterday.

Famous Carol was here because I had to go to the knee doctor. I love when the few precious hours I have to myself are spent on an exam table. And I’m in awesome blue paper shorts with my brown socks and I have to remind the x-ray guy to give me the lead blanket so he doesn’t irradiate my butt. He told me I could take the shorts home and show my husband if I wanted. Oh he was a saucy x-ray guy. At least it made the time a little less boring.

So I got home and I love it when Carol hangs around for a while before she leaves. Mostly because I crave adult companionship (and she’s hilarious), but also because she sees how the kids behave and lets me know if I’m on the right track with how I’m working with them (a.k.a. assures me that I’m not insane).

Today Miss M was trying to grab the new pink baskets with handles. The twins have taken to carrying around all the people from my ginormous Duplo block collection. (The funny thing is when we took all the people out, there were actually about six sets of twins, which delighted them even more. But now we spend a lot of time looking for lost “matches.” “Match Amy!?” Yes, Miss D, that’s a match! “Where da other match?” Damn.)

So I found two pink baskets in the basement and thought it would be adorable to see them carrying around their little people in their little baskets. Knowing full well that every child in the place would want one. I’ll get back down there eventually and find more baskets, don’t worry. (The knee, remember? Pain, not laziness?)

As Carol and I are chatting Miss M is trying to grab the basket from the Tornado, who is momentarily interested in it. He’s a boy toddler, he’s momentarily interested in everything. Carol and I know this but Miss M is determined to have it NOW. My usual way of handling this situation is to step in and say, “Miss M, Tornado is using that right now. You can wait your turn,” or, “Let’s ask him for a turn when he’s done.”

This works with varying degrees of success depending on what kids are involved. Sometimes they’ll hand the toy right over if they’re asked nicely (really!). Sometimes we’ll say the words, I’ll get the borrower interested in something else (distraction), and when I see the other one’s finished I’ll say, “Look, it’s your turn with the toy now.”

Of course the optimal way would be to get the first child to bring it over to the borrower, but again – depends on the kids involved. Sometimes they will. Sometimes it’s just easier to get the toy to the person who wants it, and who has really been waiting so patiently. It’s one of those power struggle moments that you don’t want to get dragged into for everybody’s sake. When the first one realizes they’re losing the toy and someone else is interested, suddenly it can be “MINE!!!” again.

OK so Tornado has the toy, Miss M wants the toy, and she wants it NOW. She’s got a good grip on it and she’s pulling. Naturally, he is screaming. Carol says to her (conspiratorially), “Miss M! Come here! Come here, I have to tell you something!”

Miss M doesn’t want to let go of the toy, but she is interested in what Carol has to say. She comes over, and Carol puts her arms right around Miss M’s shoulders, turns her to look at Tornado, and whispers. “I know you want that toy but you can’t grab it out of his hands. He’s not that interested and he’s going to put it down very soon.”

Miss M: “But, but…”

Carol continues to whisper and tell Miss M what’s going on. “No, wait, look he’s already mad at it. He’s trying to put it in the big basket but it doesn’t fit. He’s going to get frustrated and put it down very soon.”

Miss M is still twitching to get the toy but she’s listening to Carol too. Tornado puts the basket down and Miss M starts to make a run for it, but Carol continues to hold her. We both know if Miss M goes over now to grab it, Tornado’s hands will be back on it faster than, well, faster than tornado-strength winds.

So Carol gets Miss M to wait. “Hold on, not yet, give it one more second.” Tornado takes a step to the left and Carol tells Miss M, “OK, go sneak behind him and get it really quiet.” I get in on the action and tell her, “Be a spy, Miss M! Be super-sneaky!”

And she did it, and got the basket, and was just so darn pleased. What a great moment for her.

Of course she then turned around, walked over to the other Miss M, and tried to grab the second basket out of her hand.

But what a cool trick! I totally dug it, and it’s something that I wouldn’t think of by myself. This is what someone who has been doing child care for years has to teach us. This is why I have pushed for years for child care providers to have mentors who visit their program rather than having to go out and take classes. We’re out here learning this stuff on our own, and unless we’re really creative and intuitive, it can be really difficult to know the best way to handle the myriad of problems that present themselves during our day.

Sometimes it’s a matter of being in a rut with your kids, because you’re with them all day every day and you’re in a routine of doing the same thing. Then a new person walks in, sees the situation with fresh eyes, and wham – there’s a whole different way of handling things that you just didn’t see.

And there was something else going on in the way that Carol handled that situation. She was demonstrating the true art of child care – being able to step out of your grownup mind and engage a child on their level. We grownups can predict that someone will lose interest in a toy in thirty seconds and if she’d just wait she could have it without the fight. We get frustrated that she doesn’t get it. Just be patient! Wait for half a minute! Gawd!

But why not just explain it to her? And why did that never occur to me before? Because I am in such a rush, so distracted by what’s going on next, that I don’t slow down to examine the moment. Carol slowed us all down, and we were all interested in what was happening because she was engaged in it too.

And how many learning opportunities happened in that small moment? Too many to count. Miss M learned how to wait for her turn. How to be a good listener. How to cooperate. Self-control. Sharing. Following directions. How do you quantify something like that on paper?

This is why child care is a fine art. People think that we just sit around and change diapers all day but that is so, so wrong. We are highly skilled workers. Many people tell me all the time they don’t know how I do it, and I should just tell them that if they were properly trained, they could do it too. In the meantime, I just have to keep trying to convince everyone that we – especially those of us who’ve been doing this for many years – truly have a great deal of wisdom to share.

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