One of the joys of being a grandparent is spending fun time with my grandchildren. Sometimes on Saturdays my granddaughter, Rose, and I go to the Play Place at Burger King. She has so much energy that the climbing, jumping, crawling, swinging, hiding and chasing meets her activity level head on. However, the most amazing behavior coming from this innocent little tot is her ability to consider everyone her friend.
Rose, whose speech is delayed, is very large for her age of three, chunky and sturdy, but not overweight. She has a head of wild, curly hair that overwhelms her face. When other children talk to her, she cannot answer questions about her name, how old she is, or other ordinary questions children ask. Instead, she will gleefully look them in the eye, motion to them, and say, “Come on, friend,” as they inevitably run off to play together.
Rose adjusts her behavior to the age and temperament of her friends. Older boys, who would not generally want to play with a toddler, will play “tag” with her, thinking they can outrun her. Giggling, she runs beyond their speed limits with her long legs, chasing them into a corner where she tags them, and she steps back so they can run off and the game can begin again.
If Rose is playing with someone smaller than herself, her whole demeanor changes. She smiles and gently motions them along, skillfully helping them up to the next level, patting them soothingly on the back, and encouraging them with “Come on, friend.”
Rose has the most fun playing with someone her own size. They generally take turns playing “follow the leader”. Laughter streams from the Play Place as everyone is having fun.
Rose does not discriminate between friends, and merrily plays with anyone. One day a boy with obvious ADHD was running, skipping and jumping in a disorganized manner throughout the play area. Rose joined him, step by step, copying the same things he did, laughing uproariously.
Another day, an older girl who was non-verbal with an obvious developmental delay, became her friend. Rose joined her, playing on the outskirts. She copied her; jumping and twirling like her new friend. Every now and then, this girl would make a pleasant noise and Rose would repeat it in a singsong manner, taking her friend’s hand and saying, “Come on, friend,” as they did their dance.
Anytime one of her playmates leaves, Rose runs over to wave and say “Bye, friend,” then looks around for another friend to call her own. If no other children are in the Play Place, she will come and sit with me to have a drink of water and relax a little bit. Sometimes she will stand up and look into the Burger King dining room to see if any potential friends are eating their lunch. “Friends?” she says quizzically, putting both hands up in asking the question. As soon as another child enters the play area, Rose jumps up, runs to them, pats the child on the back saying, “Hi, friend!” as they go off to play.
This past Saturday, I heard screaming coming from the upper level of the play area. Not screaming as though she were hurt, but screeching that affected everyone’s eardrums. The boy with her was screaming also, in unison. Standing on my tiptoes, I saw the boy hit Rose, and Rose hit him back. This screaming and hitting went back and forth a few times before Rose heard me calling her to come down. Generally obedient, Rose was soon by my side where I reminded her that she should not hit or scream. She looked at me with her innocent, big brown eyes, pointed up and said “Friend?” who had continued screaming while his dad sat nearby and played on his cell phone. Reinforcing my rule for Rose that SHE could NOT scream or hit or we would leave, she wasted no time in darting her eyes around the room to find another friend, and soon ran off to play with someone else.
I learned two very important life lessons from Rose that day. She could learn proper behavior, and choose not to engage in misbehavior, even if it was hilarious fun for her at the time. More importantly, she was accepting of all children, and modified her behavior to deal with their differences. What a wonderful society we would have if we all could accommodate those different than ourselves; not just “accepting” them, but actively interacting with them and providing a positive relationship.
Come on, friends, we wait to greet you!