Spray Destruction

We sort of organically invented a game outside that I thought was pretty great for kids who are what’s sometimes called “destructive”, or who are wanting to take things apart, knock towers over, break things, etc.

The game basically consisted of my daughter (4) and me writing and drawing with chalk on the house, the fence, and the sidewalk in our backyard, while my son (6) ran around to each of the locations and sprayed them with the garden hose. The spraying was an intentional, known part of it and was the silly part of the game.

At first we just drew scribbles really fast and then he would chase after and spray them off to erase them. Then I started drawing grumpy faces like >:( and then when he would spray them I would yell “hey, my face!” and that was way funnier to them both.
So THEN obviously the next level was to write silly words like “poop” and “butt” and “Doctor Eggman” and then yell “heyyyy, you erased my butt!”

[ID: A picture of the outside of our house with sparkly green chalk letters on it that says “stinky poop butt”. /ID]

There were a couple of incidents where people got sprayed intentionally. The excitement of being in charge of the sprayer, and the impulse to spray and be “funny”, outweighed the logic of knowing that we didn’t want to be sprayed. A couple of times there were tears and yelling (I also yelled at him when he sprayed me in the face). A couple of times there were also accidental sprays of other people, not on purpose to be funny, just bad aim with the hose. If it had escalated to an unreasonable point, like antagonizing me or sister with the hose or spraying us on purpose over and over, I would have stopped the game by doing whatever was needed — removing a sibling to go inside, going and turning off the hose, confiscating the hose, pausing the game so we could talk about it, etc, whatever the situation called for parenting-wise.

[ID: my son close up to the wall with the hose, spraying away words that say “Doctor Eggman’s robots”. Only the back of him is visible. End description. /ID]

I share that because I know some people would be like, “We could never play a game like this.” And maybe that IS true — you know your family and I don’t know them, so I’m not telling you, EVERYONE can play a game like this.

But I share that because I also want to point out that playing a game imperfectly, and getting mad, and fighting, and working it out, and struggling to regulate impulses, and successfully regulating impulses, and then unsuccessfully giving in to the impulses, and then apologising, and each time coming back to the center of the relationship and the fact that the play is authentically delightful and the connection with one another — all of that is literally how children LEARN self-regulation.

They don’t have the self-regulation before they go through the process. They are only 6 and 4. The play is how they build it.

Also, we never traded roles. My daughter never expressed wanting the hose and my son never expressed wanting to draw. Then they both decided they wanted to go inside. I think my daughter liked feeling like she was “on my team” (the drawing team) more than she would’ve liked the hose, and my son was way into the hose. No adult-imposed “fairness” needed if it wasn’t what anybody was asking for.