I volunteer every Sunday in the three-year-old room where we always have a couple of “new screamers.” Some of them scream on the outside and some just whimper, while screaming on the inside. I know what they are thinking. It’s the same thing I do when I go to a party with my outgoing wife and she disappears leaving me with a room full of people I do not know …so I scream…usually on the inside.
These kids need the same thing we all do when we find ourselves in this position: a friendly face. So on Sundays I just think of what I want when I’m in their position.
Let’s start with some things I wouldn’t want:
— Someone to pick me up and carry me around for ½ of my time there. I have yet to find a three-year-old who truly wants to be held by a stranger.
— Someone in my face reminding me that I am alone but at some point I will be “collected” later.
— Someone to put me in an “activity” that I did not ask to be a part of. (Some girls didn’t wake up hoping to play with dolls with missing eyes and some boys do not jump at the chance to play with a fire truck with peeling paint)
Instead, I would want:
— Someone to talk to me straight (in a normal, grown-up voice) and give me an opportunity to be heard.
— Someone to tell me about what the next hour or two will look like: “We are going to play a little, do a FUN craft, then go to a CRAZY COOL time down the hall where we can sing and listen to a GREAT story about Moses, and then come back and have some GOLD FISH & CHEERIOS.”
— Someone to introduce himself and then ask about me (everyone likes to talk about themselves)
What did you do this week that was the most fun?
What did you have for breakfast?
Tell me about your family.
And if I don’t feel like talking, I want someone to do the talking for me—tell me about your family, what you had for breakfast, something fun you did that week. The funnier the better! (I might tell a three-year-old that I ate a brick for breakfast, went to the moon yesterday or I live with a family of monkeys—which if you met my kids may not be that big of a stretch)
— Someone to ASK what I want to do. “Do you want to do a COOL craft? Do you want to build a HUGE tower with blocks, then knock it down? Do you want to color with me?” And if none of this elicits a response, start drawing on the craft paper that covers our entire table. For a girl, I might draw a picture of my house with kids. For a boy, some crazy picture of a made up animal or something (inanimate) on fire. I tell a story about what I’m drawing, once again “indulging” the truth until they tell me I am silly or not telling the truth.
The key to it all is to have them engage with me. They get to know me and I get to know them. Isn’t that what we are all looking for in life? To be known and to know people? This funny interaction that creates familiarity with me is what allows them to relax, enjoy the hour and want to come back for more.
ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE. Your responsibility is not to simply keep all the blood in them until they are “collected”. Have fun and they will have fun!