This is a continuation of my previous post, “The Law of God on the Playground.” In that post, I described a situation at a recent homeschool park day that many moms seemed to have a problem with. In that earlier post, my main goal was to ask and answer the question “what rules govern my children’s behavior at park day?” My answer in a nutshell was that I want my children to hold to the law of God then as in all areas of their life. (It’s a long post; you will have to read it to see what I mean by that.)
But there are some other lingering issues like “how rough is too rough?” This is a big question I hear moms ask. Dads don’t tend to be at park days. I am curious if a dad there would have ever considered this question. A lot of it may be a gender issue. As I mentioned in my earlier post, when the play got rough I believe every single girl went off to do something else. The issue we had only concerned boys. I will also note that of the twenty or so boys participating, I know of only one that was upset by the game. Now I am not saying we should discount his feelings because there is only one of him. But many more than one mother was discussing this issue.
So we are left with the age-old question why do boys play so rough? And is it good for them (or at least not bad for them)? Or is there a limit, a point at which we should put a stop to it? The fact is boys and girls are not the same. Males are stronger and are the protectors, defenders, and, yes, the fighters of our race. I want there to be people ready to go to war to defend our country so how can I label all aggression as bad? And if girls play house to practice for their future callings, why should boys not play war? I have also noticed (no great observation on my part) that boys’ games seem to involve justice somehow. Think cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians (in poor taste these days, perhaps, but it was still about good guys and bad guys). Even the game our many boys were playing at that fateful park day was “prison” in which some of them rounded up others who were presumably the criminals. Boys seems to be drawn to these good guy, bad guy scenarios and I cannot help thinking it is because through their play the are working out something about justice and how right and wrong interact.
I really don’t know what a psychologist would say (not sure if I would care) but I cannot help thinking that these kinds of play seem so persistent in the lives of boys throughout the centuries that they must be necessary to their development.
One mom had suggested that the boys play only established games with set rules like tag. But this not only deprives them of the kind of good guy/bad guy roleplaying they seem geared to engage in, it also limits their creativity. And the fact is the boys (and girls when they participate) do seem to do a great job of coming up with their own games and agreeing upon a set of rules and allowing everyone to play.
But there are times when it goes too far. What has begun as a game and is agreed upon and played willingly by all just seems to take a turn for one boy and to go too far. And he loses control and usually attacks. This happened at our park day recently and I know I have seen my boys do it too. I do think it is something they outgrow as they gain more perspective and more self-control. But it can happen in an instant that the game for one child goes from fun to no fun. So when do we as adults step in? Is there a point where we can say “this looks like it will be too much soon” and so we should intervene? We could come up with endless lists of rules about what does and doesn’t cross the line, but that is not something I am in favor of (I addressed it in that earlier post).
My own inclination is that I would be very hesitant to step in. If an adult always is stepping in when they fear someone might think it has gone too far soon, then we are never giving our kids a chance to confront that moment when they may or may not lose their cool. I don’t think we teach our kids how to stop themselves and how to control their own behavior by always stepping in. I think they need to get to that point where they feel like striking out and to stop themselves or they will never learn self-control.
I think I am influenced by Charlotte Mason’s ideas on habit-training in this. She said that if we are always reminding our children to do something, say put away their coat, they will never learn to do it. It needs to be on them to remember or they will happily go through life letting us do their remembering for them. So too, I think, our children will only learn self-control be being in situations where they have to control themselves. We can’t do it for them. And, yes, there will be mistakes. But I am not at all convinced they will learn what they need to learn if we are always stepping in.
Wat do you think? Where are te limits to rough play? Should we let boys be boys or I am just excusing their behavior?