From The Sandbox To The Playground

The personality of a human being develops between the ages of two to five years old, or so research tells us, during which that personality can be observed as children ‘play’ amongst others in sandboxes and then onto playgrounds.

Leaders and followers are created there. Social interactions are formed and fears overcome there; or not. Some kids immediately take to other children in that small space of sand. Tolerating others in spaces like this can be a predictor of how well a person can ‘play’ with others in the future classrooms and workplaces, within the families they form and social situations in general.

The flip side of the kind leader in a sandbox or playground is a bully. Countless stories are written and movies are made, such as A Christmas Story and Back To The Future, where personalities beginning in childhood become fully formed by adolescence. All it takes is time to interact with others near their age. A temper tantrum in a sandbox and an 8-year-old bully on the playground demonstrate the uncomfortable emotional temperaments in some adults around us.

How did we learn to ‘play nicely’ with others? Some of us were born into large families and had siblings and cousins who became automatic playmates. Some of us had the proverbial neighborhood kids where sandboxes and playgrounds bring outsiders into our lives.

How do human beings learn to tolerate each other? We learn by watching how the adults in our lives tolerate each other, or not tolerate anyone. As I wrote in my book, Am I Going To Be Okay? Weathering The Storms of Mental Illness, Addiction and Grief, we learn by what we see, what we hear and how we are treated within the family system and family dynamic.

Some of us are introverted and might be described as shy. Some others of us are extroverted and comfortably get along with others. The leaders, followers, bullies and those taken hostage by them can be predicated in those seemingly innocent areas of play. We can consider our own experiences of long ago.

I’m the oldest of five siblings and was six years old when the next siblings were born (set of twins) and had many cousins to play with as a very young child. I always had someone to play with. My parents told me that I’ve never had a shy moment in my life. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t have times of severe social anxiety. I forced my way into other people’s lives anyway. My need for attention far outweighed the fear of embarrassment. I have not changed much at all.

What was it like for you in your earliest memories of being with other children? Were you automatically running toward the other kids or waiting on the sidelines? Was there an inherent need to control those around you at such an early age? Where did fear take over, possibly making it difficult to leave your house to play at all?

Let’s talk about those memories and how similar or different we are now. The current, sad state of affairs indicates that social media has begun the paradigm shift of ‘playing’ with others to being on our own.

Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact:

#tolerance #socialsituations #familydynamics

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