Ask A Storytime Ninja: Awkward Comfort Measures

This month is apparently all about awkward storytimes! You’re welcome ninjas.




The Question:

Related to boundaries in storytime. I do a baby storytime and will sometimes have an older sibling along for the fun, which has never been an issue. However, I am at a loss as to what in the world to do with one of my older siblings, or if I should even do anything at all honestly. Here’s the scenario: older sibling (age 3) comes along with baby brother and has a ball. He assists with “big brother” duties like helping me collect materials at the end, sings along, plays peek-a-boo with his brother, bounces or jumps with Mom while she holds baby brother, etc. Sounds great, right?! Well…in the past two months I’ve noticed that unless he’s jumping along or singing, he has one thumb in his mouth and the other hand down his pants – especially while I read. I am certain it’s a comfort thing – I was a thumb sucker myself, so this is not concerning…but the hand down the pants? Now NONE of the other caregivers have mentioned it, and Mom doesn’t scold him for it or even mention it (as in, we only do that at home son), so I’m assuming everyone is ok with this as just another comfort measure. I don’t mind either except I want to know what to say if a caregiver DOES say something to me. I don’t have the foggiest idea where to go with this one. I’m ok with whatever kids want to do, and especially understand comfort measures, but what if I have someone in storytime that clearly is NOT ok with this? (And no, I do not think he’s getting any sexual gratification here, I firmly believe it is a comfort measure, but also that it is one that can make folks uncomfortable and won’t understand about the lack of sexual pleasure angle – I live in a pretty conservative area.) Help??


The Answers: 


Tracey says: 

From what I have read, the behavior you are describing does appear to be a comfort measure. He may not even be aware he is doing it. If however anyone does mention it, I would let them know you think this is what it is, but if it really bothers them they can speak to your supervisor.  Generally, I find that most parents are pretty tolerant of the actions of other children. It doesn’t appear that this is causing any disruption or getting in the way of other children enjoying the storytime, so hopefully it will not become an issue with anyone.


Anita says:

This sounds like a comfort response, on his part and a worry on your part for adult perceptions.  If you have not had any signs or signals from other parents (raised eyebrows or pointed glances) it may not be worth addressing for a little while.  It may inadvertently cause a bigger problem and lose a family or families in the crossfire.  The main focus is on you and your stories and activities and those small behaviors are lost in the bigger picture.  If you do glimpse a negative reaction from another parent, institute a reading buddy at your next session, where each child may hold a stuffed animal during the story. If the Mom admits it as a problem, I have this to offer, in the schools I visit, I have seen the very active children offered items to hold that they can manipulate, called fidgets.  These are items like child-safe strings or bendy beads on a chenille stem/pipe cleaner or a small stuffed beanie baby type toy, etc.  Having something to fiddle with helps keep them calm.


Emily says: 

I agree with what has been said, and there’s not much I’ll add. I will share what my child development professor said (that kind of builds off of Anita’s point): It is often a normal comfort response or subconscious response for boys, and therefore you definitely shouldn’t make a big deal out of it (we don’t want the child to feel like he’s doing something wrong). The best way to correct the behavior, if it really is bothering you, is to simply give his hand something else to do. So, like has been said, a stuffed animal or toy to hold on to. Focus on the other kids, or the group as a whole and just have fun with your storytime!


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