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Oh boy! Getting several toddlers together for a play date can be…a learning experience. I considered investing in a really fancy whistle until I learned that there are several steps I can take to help make play dates easy, breezy for both me, my kids and their playmates.

  1. Cover the rules with your kids before the play date begins. Example: “Bobby, we are about to go to Jaden’s house to play. Let’s talk about the rules. There is no hitting, kicking or fighting while playing. And we share his toys and games. If you break any of these rules we will go straight home. Is this crystal clear?.”
  2. Once you are at the play date location, get all of the kids together and cover the rules with all of them before the play date begins. “Bobby, Jaden, Haley, Susie and Christopher…come here for a second. Today we are here to have a lot of fun. But there are also rules we need to follow while playing together. If anyone fights over a toy or game, then the toy will go to time-out. Okay? If anyone hits, kicks, bites or calls names, then that person will have to go home. Okay?” Make sure the parents hear, understand and support the rules so if their child is the one causing trouble they will take action.
  3. So, what if you are in the uncomfortable position where a child is not behaving and the parent of that child doesn’t do anything? I used to bite my tongue and not say anything and then hear weeks-on-end from my daughter about how mean and horrible “Christopher” was. Then one day my son was not playing nicely with his friend Ian and Ian’s mother very politely but sternly said, “Bodie, we don’t hit. Please stop.” And I had no problem whatsoever with Ian’s mom correcting my son. Parents don’t have eyes on the back of their head and many times we don’t see something that another parents does see. So don’t hesitate to correct another child (gently) and be open if other parents gently correct your child.
  4. Avoid junk food and sweets. I have seen a group of toddlers playing wonderfully together…until the chocolate chips cookies and juice are served. If you serve snacks at your play date, strive for carrots, fresh fruit and water over anything else. Otherwise, get ready for all heck to break loose!
  5. Ask older siblings to play safely with the little tikes. I have seen many accidental injuries from a 7-year old nailing a 3-year old with a ball as well as many toddlers hit by older kids on swing sets.
  6. Ask your playmates to take 10 minutes before they head home to help clean up. And if you are a guest at a friend’s home, offer to help clean up before you dash home.
  7. Every school and neighborhood has a handful of kids who are aggressive and physically or emotionally harm many children they play with. Don’t force your kids to play with these children – even if it’s your best friend. Identify the children who play well with your children and stick close to them. And don’t hesitate to leave a play date early if you sense your child is being bullied.

Two studies that surfaced this week point to poor air quality as a trigger for children’s bad behavior. One points to second-hand smoke as the air pollution culprit. The other fingers pollution from automobile traffic.

A Canadian study followed children who were exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in their early childhood years. The study found that these children more than kids who lived in smoke-free homes grew up to be aggressive and antisocial.

The study looked at over 2,000 children from birth to age 10 and compared their exposure to second-hand smoke to their teachers’ and the children’s own reports of their behavior. According to the study’s main author, “Those having been exposed to secondhand smoke, even temporarily, were much more likely to report themselves as being more aggressive by time they finished fourth grade.”

This result was obtained regardless of whether children were exposed to smoke before birth. This is a key finding, since many mothers give up smoking during pregnancy but return to it after children are born. Many parents and grandparents smoke in the home or in the car when children are present. As the study pointed out, even temporary exposure matters.

The second study, conducted by the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, found that early exposure to traffic-related air pollution leads to high levels of hyperactive behavior at age 7.

Children were followed from birth for seven years, at which point parents were asked to rate their children’s behavior. The results were compared to whether the families lived close to or far from a major highway or bus route. Parents’ reports indicated that the greater the exposure to traffic-related air pollution, the more likely were children to be diagnosed with ADHD, attention problems, aggressive behavior and other difficulties with social interaction.

The study’s authors noted that about 11% of the U. S. population lives within about 100 yards of a four-lane highway and that 40% of children attend a school that is a quarter-mile or closer to a major roadway.

Moving to the country may not be possible for your family. But these two studies point up the importance of being aware of everyday toxins and to limit children’s exposure to these. It’s important to be aware of toxins, not only before birth, when everyone is on alert for the baby’s health, but throughout the early childhood years and beyond.

These studies also point out that children’s behavior is influenced by their surroundings. It doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When seeking solutions to behavior issues, smart parents pay attention to even seemingly unrelated possibilities. Even to air pollution.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.