Distraction Tactics: Comforting a Child Who Is Not Your Own

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Activities: Babies, Cabin Fever

Occasionally, or even fairly frequently, I have in my care someone else's child. Occasionally, though thankfully not as frequently, someone else's child discovers she misses her own mother, or is in some other way suffering malaise, boredom, or angst. So, what to do with the unhappy child who does not belong to you? The Cabin Fever Fix (not patented, no guarantees) relies heavily upon distraction.

The scene: schoolyard, morning, waiting for the bell to ring. The child: four years old, she's come to school on our neighbourhood walking school bus, which I've "driven" today. (Walking school bus: another subject altogether). She doesn't run off to join the rest of the anarchic crowd careening about the playground.

"How are you?"

Child surreptitiously wipes away tears.

"Would you like--"

Child interrupts: "No! I I won't!"

She suspects my motives. She won't be cajoled or enticed. She won't!

I forge on: "Would you like me to put your snack container into your backpack?" Her mother has sent her with a cheering-up munchie, which she's finished.

"Oh." You're not going to make me play with the other kids or put my backpack by the fence?" "Okay."

Container stowed. "Do you like rhymes or songs?"

Trick question. I know that she does. She's friends with my four-year-old, who stands nearby, watchfully waiting.


Tough customer. But she's not crying anymore...

I crouch down. I need to anyway because my youngest, our toddler who's protested all the way to school, is suffering a minor panic attack.

"I think he thinks he's going to have to go to school, too," I say to the child not my own. Who giggles. "What do you think? How would he do at school?" And then I pretend to give him instructions. "Okay, now, take off your boots, please. Line them up in the hallway." The two kindergarten experts glance at each other--absurd! we love it!--and jump into the game.

The child who is not my own, tears long-forgotten, commands, "Now, unzip your coat! Hang up your backpack!"

Subject expanded upon and explored, toddler equally cheered, we've still got a few minutes. I return to the rhyme suggestion. "How about 'Five Little Monkeys'?"

My four-year-old wants to start with ten.

The other four-year-old claims not to have heard of this rhyme, but agrees to try.

We all hold up one hand, four fingers and a thumb. We chant the words (she knows it after all): "Five little monkeys swinging in a tree, teasing Mr. Crocodile can't catch me, no you can't catch me!' Along comes Mr. Crocodile as quiet as can be. SNAP!" (One hand is the wiggling and teasing monkey hand, and the other is the sneaky crocodile hand, with fingers and thumbs snapping together like a big mouth.)

Four left.

Three. Two. One.

"We have a special ending for one," I say.

"I know! I know!"

"'Missed me, missed me, now you've gotta kiss me! SMOOCH!'"

Bell rings. The child who is not my own readily enters the school with her teacher, at the front of the line. Not a backward glance.

Suggested resources: We learned the Five Little Monkeys song at storytime at our public library. There are many other finger rhymes, and the repetition and action make them easy to remember. For more ideas, try Stamp Your Feet: Action Rhymes, by Sarah Hayes and Toni Goffe.


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.