We like to think that we know our kids better than anyone. And for the most part this is probably true. But at my sons swimming lesson this week, I was reminded just how little we can sometimes predict their behaviour. When we think we have told them things, explained what to do should certain situations arise and how to go about making the right choices, we can sometimes be reminded all too harshly, that their little brains are not always developed enough to be as predictable as we would assume.
It was safety week at swimming, so rather than their usual lesson of strokes, breathing and kicking, they would instead test out some of the phrases we had all recited to them in the past, to see how they could translate these to real life situations. So they sat all these eager little 3 year olds up on the side of the pool and spoke about playing with balls near water. The teacher threw a ball in and asked them what they would do. Every child jumped in the first time and tried to retrieve the ball. The lady next to me was particularly surprised at this. She told me they actually had a pool and that she had in fact had that conversation many times before, and believed that it had ‘sunk in’. After floundering and spluttering for a while as they tried in vain to get the ball that kept bobbing further away, the children were picked up by the teacher and asked again what they would do next time. They then repeated the scenario. This little boy took 4 turns of spluttering and floundering after a bobbing ball before he finally answered that it was not safe to go and get that ball and that he should instead get an adult. Once the kids did this they had to physically get out of the pool, walk over to the parent and ask them if they could retrieve their ball. “Wow”, said the mum next to me. “I am so utterly and completely shocked that he kept doing that. I have told him so many times about chasing balls into a pool or onto a road”.
It also reminded me of a segment I saw once where a group of kids who had been told about not going over to strangers cars etc were set up by the TV crew whilst playing in the park. The parents were watching via satellite as a man approached the children one by one. And one by one each child walked over to the car and sat in the boot of the station wagon waiting to see the litter of puppies promised to them by the ‘stranger’. Again the parents gasped in shock at how easily and unquestioningly their children followed the man. Again the parents repeated “I have told them so many times about not ever going with someone they don’t know alone. I cant believe they did that”.
So what is the best way to get these lessons more firmly cemented into their brains? Just as it happened at my sons swimming lesson, I believe the very best way is to actually role play these situations. Don’t just tell them about a ball near a road, actually let the ball go on the road. Make them sit and watch it as cars go past and even threaten to squash it. Make them turn to you and ask you to get it for them. Similarly tell your child you are a stranger knocking on a door and ask them to do what they would do should someone knock whilst you are in the shower. Or pretend to be someone who is telling your children they have lollies or puppies to show them. Give them the actual words to use and the steps to take, to enable them to make safe choices.
This I believe is the only way to really help our kids in situations they find themselves in that are beyond their natural realm of thinking, We can apply this idea of role playing and giving our kids the right words to use right throughout their childhood and even beyond. I know friends who have told their teenagers if they find themselves in situations they are not comfortable with to have a set of lines they can use. Things like “Mum just text me, I have to go home”. Or even just “I am not feeling great. I need to go home to bed.” Allow them to still save face in front of their friends and peers, but allow them make the choices they feel are right. It sounds easy and predictable to us, but for kids, it can certainly help if the words are rehearsed so that they come more easily when they are under pressure.
I know I am not the only person who has said to myself or others “I can’t believe he did that. I really didn’t think he would”, or “I’ve discussed that with him before, he knows that is not safe”.
Again we can’t go around predicting every predicament our kids will find themselves in, but I think it can certainly be helpful to give them the tools early on, to put the words we repeatedly nag at them, into real life situations.
Have you ever role played a situation with your kids?