When we’re working with our little buddies, we use a lot of different strategies to help them feel included, calm, and safe. Maybe we’re using gentle pressure on their shoulders. Maybe we’re trying to keep them distracted from something else in the room that’s bothering (or distracting!) them. Maybe we’re using sensory toys to help them focus on the lesson or stay comfortable in a group setting.
But then—it happens.
Another kid in the room notices the one-on-one treatment and becomes jealous. Rub my back! Play with ME! I want that squishy toy, too! Why does HE get to have it?
What do you do then? Here’s a story my friend Kendra shared with me. She was the main leader in a Cross Town room. What she described is a fairly common scenario. In her situation, she didn’t have the assistance of a Buddy to intervene, but this can happen to you even while you’re in the middle of supporting a child who needs you. How would you handle this situation?
“I was working with one little boy who definitely needed something in his hands to help him stay seated and focus on what he was listening to. We didn’t have a Buddy in the room, so I got a few Duplo blocks out of the bin for him to hold. He was very happy with this and was sitting independently and listening. The snag came when other kids noticed that he was playing with the Duplos. They wanted some, too. In fact, they walked to the front of the room and started opening the bin of Duplos and passing them out to one another. Help! How do I handle this next time?”
Okay, a couple of things stand out to me right away. First, there was no Buddy in the room to support this child. The room leader was trying to manage an entire class plus a child who needed extra support. (In other words, Buddies—you’re so needed!)
Second, the other leaders weren’t prepared to help support their small groups through this. Kendra, alone, couldn’t help educate the other kids that this child wasn’t using the blocks as toys. She needed help from the other leaders to explain, as often as was asked, that these toys were helping the child stay calm and listen. What are some other ideas that might have worked in this example? I’ve got a few ideas!
Here are a few things you can do to help keep jealousy at bay—while still supporting your little buddy.
- Advise the other leaders at the beginning of your experience. Let them know that you’ll probably need to use special fidget toys and other strategies to keep your little buddy calm and able to participate. Ask them to help keep the kids in their small group out of your little buddy’s “bubble” when needed. Ask them to praise the kids in their small group for what they’re doing well. Ask them to explain to the other kids that your little buddy needs these toys to help them stay calm and listen.
- Create distance as needed. I usually find that when I’m working with a child who needs sensory toys, they also may need a little “bubble” of space around them, too. It not only helps your little buddy feel safer but also it helps keep the cool sensory toys you’re using out of sight and reach from other kids in the room. Often, it can be best to choose a spot that’s just behind the other small groups. The sensory toys and other strategies you’re using will be out of sight—and out of jealousy range!
- Praise the other kids when you can. Here’s an example of a short exchange I have nearly every week. A short conversation like this works well from about ages four and up. It helps the child see that they’re doing a good job with their listening ears (and self-regulation skills!), and it helps encourage them to be patient and to mentor their peers who are learning these skills.
Child: Why does she get to have that toy? I want one, too.
Buddy: It helps her stay calm and listen. You’re doing a great job listening already. Good for you! Can you stay calm and help [child’s name] while she’s learning to listen, too?
Child: Yes! But, I still want a toy.
Buddy: If we have time together after [child’s] mommy and daddy pick her up, I will let you play with it! Can you be a good friend to her and give her space until then?
Buddy: You’re doing great! Thank you for understanding and for being a good friend.
4. Redirect when possible! When you’re working with 2 and 3-year-olds, a conversation as described in point 2 may not work. Try redirecting instead. And, of course, enlist help from the other leaders in the room to help create some space for you to work with your little buddy.
Child: I want toy!
Buddy: This is her toy. It’s helping her feel better.
Child: I want!
Buddy: Here, honey. You’re sitting with Mr. [Leader’s] group. You’re doing a good job! Mr. [Leader] will help you feel better, too!
At this point, the other leader can take over. Maybe the child legitimately needs some kind of comfort item. If so, the leader can always come to you for assistance as needed. Maybe you can suggest they try giving the child one of the toys in the room (such as a few Duplos, blocks, or maybe even something they’ve brought from home) to help the child to rejoin the programming without feeling like they’re missing out on the attention or items they feel they need!
5. Consider sharing. If you’ve already tried the strategies listed above, consider whether it might be okay to allow the child to join your bubble a bit and use a calming toy, too. I’ve seen it happen before where a child seems in legitimate need of something to help them stay focused, too. In this case, you might say something like this.
Buddy: Do you think this [Duplo, block, car, toy] will help you stay calm and listen, too?
Buddy: Okay. If you sit near your leader [or near me—play it by ear] you may hold this as long as it’s helping you listen. If it makes it harder for you to stay calm and listen, we’ll put it away so you can listen better. Can you do that?
At this point, you can either let the child sit near you or enlist the help of their leader to help them use the toy appropriately. I’ve seen this strategy work beautifully!
These are just a few of the strategies I’ve used to help make my presence as a Buddy one that the whole room accepts and enjoys. What works for you? Find a Buddy or a LifeKids leader and talk through what’s working well in your room, with your kids. And be sure to ask what’s working well for them, too!