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My two pre-schoolers (almost 4, almost 5) sometimes play rough with each other, e.g. when fighting over some toy. When one of them asks us parents for help, it's sometimes part of the game (they want to "win" or gain an advantage over their sibling), and sometimes they really do need help, because they don't want to play that game any more, but their sibling won't leave them alone.

I usually avoid interfering in the first case, but I do want to help in the second case. So I want to make a house rule that when one of them says a certain phrase, the other one has to stop, disengage and leave them alone or face a penalty.

My current favorite is "Dear X, please leave me alone!", because it is polite but still unambiguously states what the child wants the other person to do. Another option would be "I don't like this", which seems more vague. Apart from the immediate effect of helping me decide between playful and earnest pleas for help, I also think it would teach them something useful for dealing with other children (setting boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others).

Is this a good idea? Are there other pros/cons regarding these (or other phrases)?

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    "Dear X" sounds awfully awkward for a verbal communication in a family setting, especially for pre-schoolers – Kevin Jun 2 at 17:40
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For house-rules, you could pick whichever stop word you like. Useful traits are if they're short distinct and not something you'd say in that context accidentally. "Pickles" means stop. Simple.

If you want to teach them something that will transfer to the world outside of your family, I would really suggest you consider they learn to respect that every kind of 'no' is a stop word. There is nothing about rough and tumble play that necessitates that children should ever cross each others' borders. I hold the opposite to be true: you can be more or less as rough as you want as long as both are enthusiastically in on it.

In the real world, I don't expect "Dear X" will have much sway with their peers. A firm "STOP" with a raised palm is ubiquitous. But teach them to respect any sign that the other part wants to stop. While being explicit is helpful, this will also teach them to expect that any sign from them that they want to stop should be respected, and that anything other than that is a transgression.

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  • Thanks, interesting food for thought. I doubt the practicality of the final paragraph, though: If it were possible to successfully teach pre-schoolers to never cross others' boundaries, we'd have found the holy grail of parenting similar-aged siblings, and, as far I know, nobody succeeded in that yet. My goals are a bit more modest. :-) – Heinzi May 30 at 9:03
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    @Heinzi: regarding respecting all boundaries, that's definitely what I aim to teach. I don't expect it from my one year old, but my three year old I'll remind in every instance. I don't say I have a silver bullet solution for achieving this level of respect for others, but this is the expectation I set up. This is the value I teach them. I never employ punishments or would be angry with them for failing in that regard, but they should at least know what the ideal is. – dxh May 30 at 19:18
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    As a parent, I'm biased to cater for the safety of my own kids first. If they grow up to be respectful of others, that's super, but the reason I feel this is an important value to teach them is that this is what I want them to expect from others. It's a utopian thought to think that they should always be respected, but they should recognise a transgression. They should never feel shame that they didn't put up more resistance. When they're wronged, they should see that for what it is. And if ever an adult should fail to respect their no, they should recognise that as an immediate red flag. – dxh May 30 at 19:42

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