The Wisdom of the Sandbox

Psychologist Alex Russell, who spoke to upper school parents Monday night, likes to talk about “The Sandbox Test”

Here’s the scenario: You’ve taken your young child to the park to play in the sandbox, where he soon begins to chum around with another child whose parent had the foresight to bring toys to the playground. Your child impulsively grabs a toy from the properly parented playmate, and a conflict begins. The thoughtful parent, the one who cared enough about his child to bring along toys, jumps into the sandbox and reprimands your child.

Question: What do YOU do at this point?

The right answer, according to Alex, is to thank the other parent. His thinking, “That parent has taught my child an important lesson. When he acts like a turkey, bad things are going to happen to him.”

Russell believes that most parents are pretty good about not intervening when their children are young, but most of us would agree that it gets tougher and tougher for parents to back off as children go through adolescence because the risks seem greater, and the stakes are higher.

Despite this ever increasing anxiety, anxiety that schools may inadvertantly accentuate (“But will he still be able to get into Queens’ Commerce Program?”), Russell stresses that “non catastrophic failure” is an important part of a child’s development. Almost all of us would agree that this is a very good idea, especially when it comes to other people’s children.


One thought on “The Wisdom of the Sandbox

  1. This is interesting it brought to mind an incident many years ago when my wife was a “gymnast mom” carpooling our daughter and her adolescent friends at the time, from one place to another. There was one young lass who was being a total brat in the back seat. My wife pulled the car over and spoke to the young lady sharply about appropriate behavior. That was the end of the problem or so we thought till that evening we received a call from a distraught mother of the former brat wailing that her daughter was traumatized over the incident. She challenged my wife about her right to speak to her child in such a way. These folks were friends (not great friends) but we never socialized after that.

    I agree with everything in your blog especially the last line.

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