Playing well with others
By: By Lisa Smartt
There is one pivotal life skill that every parent and teacher is trying to impart to today’s children. It’s obvious because of what teachers write on report cards. “Little Johnny plays well with others.” Or “Little Johnny needs to work on his interaction with others. He is sometimes bossy and controlling.” Parents write back, “We are so relieved that Johnny plays well with others.” Or “We’re very disturbed that Johnny is bossy and controlling and want you to know we are doing everything we can to teach him to play well with others.”
Playing well with others. Wouldn’t it be great if a kindergarten teacher could come and observe each one of us for 24 hours? I think it might be fascinating to read her notes at the end of the day. Would she find us bossy or controlling? Would she note our great willingness to share or would she observe greed and selfishness?
My kids have recently gotten a great lesson in playing well with others. Some Texas friends and their three boys came to visit for three nights. My boys were beyond excited at the thought of their friends coming for an extended visit. The anticipation was almost magical. Day One found everyone hugging and playing extremely well together. Day Two found everyone tired and playing a little “less well.” Day Three found everyone treating each other like siblings and threatening life and limb. That’s when we started hearing things like, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” “He got more Oreos than I did.” “We’re going outside to have a big stick fight.”
As a parent, I desperately want to teach my children the value of loving others. I want them to respect their peers and be sensitive to other people’s feelings. I want them to share and give and be gracious. I think most parents want the same things for their children. We want children who aren’t selfish or bratty. We want to raise children who play well with others.
But it’s humbling to realize that they are looking to us for modeling in these pivotal areas. Are we selfish and bratty? Do we want our own way? Do they see us being considerate of our spouses and our co-workers? Do we honk the horn and malign other drivers? Do we talk bad about our boss? Do we show verbal respect for our parents? Do they hear us speaking kindly to our spouses or do they hear us barking orders? I know. It’s worth some consideration.
Parents are always saying to their children, “Share with the little neighbor girl, Susie. Go ahead, let her play with your Lite Brite. Stop being selfish! No, Brad. Let Cousin Jimmy have the first jump on the trampoline. He’s your guest.” Doesn’t that sound good? Yeah. We’ve all said stuff like that. We truly want our kids to share their things. But, when is the last time you heard an adult say to one of his friends, “Why don’t you drive our new SUV on your next long trip! It’s SO comfy and we want you to enjoy it.” Just some food for thought.
Do I model sharing for my children? Do they see me being willing to give to others, even when it’s personally inconvenient? I’m concerned about what comes home on my boys’ report cards. I’m definitely concerned about their character. I want to see them develop into great guys. But, for a while, I think I’ll focus on my own character. And if you see me, feel free to ask the pivotal question, “Lisa, are you playing well with others?”
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 3.26.08
Lisa Smartt, Smartt View