The young teacher was losing her patience. One toddler was determined to get what she wanted by removing it from another toddler's hands and it was happening over and over again. "No! You can't keep doing that," she said, exasperated.
I've been in that teacher's shoes thousands of times. I understand her frustration because I've felt that way myself. I also understand that she could really help herself out in the long run if she took the time to address the real problem.
The problem isn't that the child wants the toy, it's that she doesn't know how to get it without infringing on the rights of another.
That's what true empathy is all about.
The ability to go after what one wants without harming anyone else and the ability to work effectively with others to reach shared goals without giving up one's own. That's how I see it anyway.
But I didn't know how to stop toy snatching effectively, either. Until I heard another teacher say it. Over and over again.
"He's using that. You can ask for a turn or play with something else while you're waiting for it. I'll help you do either if you want."
Nice. And simple. Those words or similar ones can be used by parents teachers, grandparents, and anyone else who wants to help people learn to get along. I've used it hundreds if not thousands of times since then.
And to be honest with you, nothing works every time with toddlers because they might be hungry or tired but I can say for sure that it works a lot better and feels a lot better than any other technique I've tried for dealing with this problem.
This is a baby step we can take towards creating more empathy in the world and I truly believe that every little bit helps. Kids who learn how to get what they want in an acceptable way, often don't feel the need to harm others. This only makes sense.
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Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor,
and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.