Some news broke recently, and it was a little surprising: dozens of daycares in Quebec are being encouraged to allow children to roughhouse, rather than break it up.
Staff at many daycares in the province's eastern townships are being asked to allow boys to, well, be boys by allowing war games and battle games in a structured environment with rules. The new guidelines are part of a push to better support boys' development. They say rough play helps children develop social skills, which will serve them well in future.
I was alarmed when I read the article. Daycares allowing little kids to fight in school? Could this possibly be safe? Would I want my kids in a daycare that didn't teach kids how to behave properly in a school environment?
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for roughhousing. How could I not be? I grew up in a house with two brothers who fought all the time. For fun. Now I have two school-age boys and the days they don't fight are few and far between. I watch them wrestle each other to the ground, get back up, chase each other and hit. It's not exactly music to my ears. In fact, most times I hate it and try to intervene. But I know it's normal, thanks to my brothers, and that roughhousing is teaching my sons important life lessons.
For instance, even when they roughhouse, they do it cautiously. They know that hurting someone's face, head or privates is not allowed, and in this way they are learning rules and self control. They are gaining confidence, figuring out who's stronger and how far they can push their brother's limits. They are learning to read facial expressions and body language. When someone taps out, they've got to let go. When someone cries or looks hurt, they immediately apologize and ask if the other is OK.
Yes - my kids fight at home, and I allow it with caveats attached.
They are learning when and where it's appropriate, too. I once took them to a shoe store and was furious when they tumbled to the ground and rolled around on the store floor. I felt like I'd failed as a mother at the time, but I took them straight home and gave them a consequence. Fighting at home is OK, they learned, but it's not appropriate in restaurants, stores or other public places.
If they've fought at home when they've had friends over, I've broken it up and spoken to them about why they can't behave like this in front of other people. I'm sure there are a few kids who weren't allowed to come back. As embarrassing as that is, the lesson was not lost on my kids. It was also a perfectly natural consequence, which I could not have doled out myself.
When it looks like a conflict can't be resolved through wrestling at home, I teach them conflict resolution. I try to sit them down and get to the bottom of the matter. After they are calm and have expended their energy, I teach them how to figure out a solution that might help them resolve issues more easily in future. So, yes -- my kids fight at home, and I allow it with caveats attached.
But at a school or daycare? I'm not keen about that. Those are places where kids should learn to resolve their conflicts with words, not fists. That's where teachers should reinforce the idea that sword fighting and war games aren't nice. But besides the social skills they aren't practicing if they are allowed to fight and play war, it's not even safe or practical to allow kids to fight at school.
The students outnumber the teachers. In some classes, there is one teacher for 30 students. It would be chaos if kids learned as early as nursery school -- where, granted, the teacher-to-child ratio is lower -- that fighting in the school yard is allowed. If my kids were involved in a fight at school, they would be in big trouble when they got home, especially if it could have been avoided with conflict resolution. I must be doing something right: my kids are angels at school, even if they fight with each other at home.
If children in some Quebec nursery schools are allowed to fight, then all I can say is I'm glad my sons are in grade school in Ontario, where staff are encouraged to reinforce the value of love over war.
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