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  • Laurie Empen

    Laurie Empen created and leads Ms. Laurie’s Play Group in Lincoln Square and consults with families on issues of discipline, potty training, sensory concerns and more.

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    “What do I do when my baby reaches over and grabs another baby’s hair?” It's a common question at the playgroup I lead. 

    As a teacher of young children—birth to three years—I see lots of exploration, curiosity and expression of wants that affect other children, as well as parents and caregivers. What is the best way to guide young hearts, hands and minds in a group setting?

    It’s important to remember the age of the child. I have seen two babies, sitting and facing each other, with one extending her hands to touch and grab the other baby’s hair. Now, the intent is curiosity, so there is no need for discipline in this instance, but there is a need to guide the curiosity so no harm is caused.

    If the touch becomes too aggressive, as in grabbing or pinching, we want the adult to take the baby’s hands and stop that action while saying “gentle” and then guiding that hand in a gentle way over the respective caregiver/parent’s arm. Then let the baby try to reach out again—if that baby was not shocked or hurt by the original action. This serves two purposes: showing babies about gentle touch and the way to interact that is socially accepted and safe, and showing the other adults that we are mindful of our child’s or charge’s behavior. 

    When babies turn into toddlers, there is more awareness of actions and consequences. If a 16-month-old grabs a toy that another toddler is playing with and there isn’t an objection from the toy-holder, it does warrant the adult to step in and say something like, “Susan, your friend was playing with that toy. We need to give it back until she is finished and then it’s your turn.” Wait to see if Susan will return the toy. If she resists, then you tell her, “If you cannot give the toy to your friend, Mommy will help you.” Then the adult must follow through.

    Why do that, particularly when the other toddler doesn’t seem affected by it? This sets the stage for life. We cannot take or grab what is not ours; we have to wait our turn. If a fit ensues, then it is best to return the toy for your child and leave the classroom setting so that your child has time away from the environment and the class can continue without the disruption of crying or screaming. 

    As your child approaches two years of age, and older, you can start encouraging her to say “sorry.” If she won’t, then you may stay with your child as you both approach the offended kid and give the apology for your child. Again, we are modeling the behavior we want our child to learn, and it shows the other adults that we are respectful of other children’s feelings, too. 

    It takes a little time, but consistency is the best way to get positive results. 

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    Laurie Empen

    Laurie Empen created and leads Ms. Laurie’s Play Group in Lincoln Square and consults with families on issues of discipline, potty training, sensory concerns and more.

    Photo: Sabine75/Flickr

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