Juan was busily playing with the Duplo blocks when Petro came over and said, “I want all your blocks. I don’t have any.” Juan looked up, scooped up his blocks and said “No, these mine!” Petro put his arms on his hips, ready to shout back, when he stopped and stared at Juan. Within a few seconds, Petro said, “Can me have a few of them?” Juan handed him a few blocks with a smile on his face and said, “We play together?” Both parents stood there in amazement as their three-year-olds expressed their needs, and in their own timeline, began working out what could have been a potential fight for the Duplos. One might ask: where did Juan and Petro learn their remarkable social skills? What led to an outcome that ended up with both boys sharing? Their sharing may seem the opposite of what we normally expect of three-year-olds. How had their parents shaped their responses to be different from eliciting a fight?
Juan’s mom commented that he had never seen anyone fight and at home, they teach the “gentle touch” with him. Mom said this was a technique she learned in her early childhood course at Danbury High School. She and her husband decided that when they had children, they would aim to teach social skills through touch, an often overlooked strategy for helping children develop social connections. From the perspective of an early childhood educator, their approach has been effective but how had Petro learned his skills? Petro’s mom said that Petro has two older brothers who often engage Petro in fun fights but they also work on being gentle and asking for things. While most three-year-olds are still very egocentric (they think only of themselves and do not see one another’s perspective), the skills the two boys possessed are above their developmental age.
These interactions show how the nature/nurture debate plays out in real life. No matter how their early development has contributed to their personalities, the life attributes they have learned by being nurtured gently have helped them overcome the potential for reactive conflict. By learning more appropriate ways to deal with conflict, they have developed skills that will last them a lifetime.
Every day, I worry about the next generation and how they will survive. What can we do with our current generation to make them more social, respect life and honor others? Juan and Petro’s parenting lessons are valuable to us all. Touch is so powerful that neuroscientists credit early touch responses to better developed social abilities. Hugging, cuddling and early touch helps to develop better awareness of babies’ own bodies and to have the capacity to understand and relate to others around them. Both parents used the “touch approach” and the proof is in their children’s behavior: sharing and good conflict resolution. Let this be a lesson for all of us. Happy New Year for a kinder, more considerate and compassionate world in 2017.
Anne E. Mead, M. Ed., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.