Time Out

Today, I took the girls to a preschool program at our local nature center.  That part’s not very relevant, although it does sort of set the stage for the seemingly-minor sequence of events that took place today.

There were about seven kids at the program, all between three and five years of age.  S5 was the oldest, most of the other kids were 4, and a few were just three.  They all behaved fairly well, with just the occasional extraneous wiggle.  S5 blurted out answers a few times.  O4 did, too.  But everyone did a pretty good job at keeping focus and joining in on the activities, participating without distracting the rest of the group.

Everyone, that is, except for Erica.

Erica, an older and very verbal three-year-old, was there with her grandparents.  Erica did not want to sit with the group.  Erica did not want to be quiet during the story.  Erica had plenty to say about things not even related to the program or the current activity.  She wandered.  She blurted.  She distracted everyone, including the ranger running the program.  At storytime, she stood up in front of the book (“Cactus Hotel”, if you are wondering) and stuck her little face into the page so that only she could see the pictures.  At one point, she even knocked the book out of the ranger’s hand.

The ranger was very kind, but she was obviously getting frustrated.  The other kids were getting frustrated, too.  “Sit down, Erica!” everyone said half-a-dozen times.  The grandparents joined in the chorus of people admonishing her to park her behind, too, but otherwise did nothing to correct the situation.

Finally, after sternly telling Erica to sit down for what must have been the tenth time, and giving a pointed glance at the grandparents (who still had not moved to correct their little charge), the ranger finished the story and moved on to the next activity.  Erica loudly announced that she wasn’t interested in holding on to a picture of a desert animal while we sang a song.  She threw herself on the floor and complained that she was tired.  We kept going around her, ignoring the tantrum and trying not to get too distracted by this very obnoxious behavior.

Ad nauseum.

Now, I really don’t have a problem with Erica’s behavior.  Every child has off-days and rough moments where they simply cannot behave, whether it’s because they’re tired, or they had too much sugar at grandma’s that morning, or maybe their clothes are itchy, or their bodies are changing and adjusting, or the stimulus is too much, or whatever.  It happens to everyone.  Every parent has, at one time or another (sometimes many times, if we’re going to be honest here) been the parent of that child, the one who disrupts the entire scene and makes his mother want to crawl into her diaper bag and hide there until everyone else has gone home.

The thing is, most of us will reach out to our child during these little episodes and try to help them refocus.  We will scoop them up, look them in the eye, and let them know that what they are doing is not acceptable.  And then we will let them try again, maybe once or even twice.  But if it’s obvious that Preschool Nature Hour is just not happening this morning, we’ll stick them into their little boots and coat and take them home.  It’s not only the considerate thing to do for the rest of the group, but the kids need that kind of reinforcement.  They need to know when they are behaving out of bounds.  And they need someone to take them out of situations that they aren’t prepared to handle.

No, it wasn’t Erica’s behavior that was immature and irresponsible.  For a three-year-old, she behaved completely normally.  It was her grandparents who needed the time out.

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