Rules, Principles, Empathy - and a little waffling thrown in at the end
"Leave me aloooone!" Arthur's voice rises above the steady buzz of play.
Two little boys hover around the loveseat upon which Arthur wriggles, black purse on his lap. He scootches further back into the cushions, his whole body a wail of protest.
"Leave me aloooonnnne!" George and Darcy look at each other and crowd even closer, giggling.
Hmmm. This is bullying, and I have no tolerance for that. The boys may not be doing it consciously, but the impulse is the same, and it needs to be stopped.
"George. Darcy." My voice is calm but forboding. They stand back a pace and look at me solemnly. "What did Arthur just say?"
"He said to leave him alone." George offers.
"Exactly. He asked you politely to leave him alone. Please listen to Arthur." That was the rule. Now for the principle: "If you do something that makes someone sad, you need to stop if you can. Do you have to be with Arthur?"
The boys have the grace to look chagrined. "No." Good. Rule and principle accomplished. Now for some empathy.
"If you said 'No' to me, and I kept doing it, would you be happy or sad and angry?"
"Sad and angry," offers George.
"Scared." This is Darcy. Pretty aware for a three-year-old. Good lad.
"That's right. So Arthur asked you to leave him alone, but you kept crowding him. Do you want to make your friend sad and angry and scared?" (All evidence indicates the answer is "Yes", but let's move them past that, shall we?)
"Well, then, you need to say sorry to Arthur for not listening, and then you need to go off and find something better to do with yourselves, all right?"
"Okay." The boys offer their apologies, which in this house are accompanied by hugs. They move to play with the blocks in the next room. Arthur pops up on a spring, throws the purse to one side, charges down the hall.
"Hey, guys! Wait for me!"