The Sandbox

Last night, we went to Bethany’s house for a lovely dinner and babygazing party. When we got there, the first thing I did was to get down at eye level with Silas, point out the sandbox, and remind him of the rules for playing in it. No throwing sand. No putting sand on other people. What can we do in the sandbox? Dig, build, pour. Very good, have a nice time with your friends.

We’ve had a hard time with the sandbox. Silas loves to throw sand. He also loves putting sand/grass clippings/diapers on people’s heads. We discuss every day how people don’t like that, and how it is okay to put things on his own head, but not on someone else’s. At our house on Memorial Day, James got sand in his own eyes and was in so much pain that he couldn’t play at all. That made a big impression on Silas–he talked about it daily for a week.

Everything was going well last night. The children were playing nicely–hugging each other, running around, sharing their toys. Silas had had a long nap before we went over there, so I figured he’d be fine. Most of his negative behaviors (the one we’re dealing with the most right now is pushing people over) only show up when he is overtired. The kids ran off to play, and I was not concerned…until James came up the steps rubbing his eyes and told me that Silas had thrown sand at him. I sent JC to have a talk with him, since I was nursing Petra. JC came back and reported that Silas was sorry, had apologized to James, and had promised not to do it again. He also noted that Silas needed to use the potty (funny, when I need to pee, I go to the bathroom rather than expressing this need by throwing sand at my friends…). Half an hour later, Elisabeth came in with the same report. This time, Laura had seen it happen and had given Silas a talking-to about it. I decided it was time to leave, if he couldn’t control himself with the sand. When we got home, I asked him what Laura had said about the sand box. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Did she say it was okay to throw sand?”

“No. She said it was not good.”

I hope Laura made an impression–sometimes kids need to hear things from people other than their parents, and Laura, as his godmother, might be the best person to try it. He adores her and definitely cares what she thinks of him (more than he cares about what the rest of us think…).

I know that this is typical toddler behavior, but it still drives me nuts. I feel like we have been dealing with this for a year.

Silas in Michigan, March 2012. Proof that we have been working on NOT THROWING SAND for a year.

He has a lot of the cognitive pieces in place. He feels sad when his friends are hurting (even if he caused the pain). He knows that the consequence of throwing sand is no more sandbox. He can express what he did and what happened. He just doesn’t have the forethought and self-control to not throw the sand. I understand that this is because his brain is under developed. I’m just frustrated because we have been dealing with this for freaking ever, and he doesn’t get it. It keeps him from having a perfectly nice time with his friends, which keeps me from having a perfectly nice time with my friends, and makes me grumpy. At least he isn’t doing it with malice–it’s not something he does in anger or for attention, it’s just something he does.

I’ve tried all these things:

  • Reminding him of the rules
  • Asking him to repeat the rules back to me and tell me why each one is important
  • Reminding him of the consequences (both “It will make your friends sad” and “You will not be allowed to play in the sandbox anymore.”)
  • Enforcing the consequences (usually, I revoke sandbox privileges at the first sand-throwing instance; JC is more lenient and usually gives him a second chance. Neither approach is working).
  • Suggesting other ways to play with the sand

These don’t seem to be getting us anywhere. I could just not go places with sandboxes, but there are two great ones at Bethany’s house and I don’t want to not go to Bethany’s house. I also don’t want to disassemble the one at my house. Here are a few more ideas I’ve come up with to try. I’d appreciate any success stories in the comments.

  • Show him how to let it “rain” sand–letting it sprinkle through his fingers at 6″ above the ground, so he can still see it sparkle and fall, without it being high enough to get in anyone’s eyes.
  • Get a big bunch of confetti and offer that as a thing that is okay to throw at/on people (that is the point of confetti, right?)
  • Go in the sandbox with him at our house so that he can practice playing with sand without endangering his friends. Usually, at home, he is totally happy to play in the sandbox by himself, so I let him. Sometimes he comes in with sand all over his head and then I tell him he has to have a bath with hair-washing (which he hates). Sometimes he says, “I didn’t put sand on my head so you don’t have to bubble my hair!” (see, he can think ahead and make the right choice)
  • Incorporate water play with sand more. He loves pouring water, and water makes the sand a lot harder to throw, and nearly impossible to get in someone’s eyes.

Elisabeth, God bless her, told me, “It’s okay. I used to throw sand when I was a little kid. I remember that. He’ll stop when he grows up.” She’s five.

I said, “When Silas is big like you, I bet Petra will be throwing sand at him and he’ll be all upset about it. I don’t think he’ll remember that he used to do it, and I don’t think he’ll believe me when I tell him.”

“I’ll tell him that he used to do it, and he needs to help her learn not to do it. I’ll make sure he doesn’t forget,” she said.

The part of me that is too mean to be anybody’s loving mama had a happy moment fantasizing about her “making sure he doesn’t forget” when he’s fifteen and trying to score a date with her. ::evil laughter::


Aili Written by:


  1. jennifermurch
    June 22, 2013

    You’re doing a great job. There are no easy answers. Parenting is frustrating, exhausting, repetitive work. It’s never over. Not to be a downer, but he’ll stop throwing sand eventually…and then move on to something else that will take just as much time and energy. Hang in there!

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