This morning I was working in the backyard with two of my grandchildren, Bruce and Sylvie, ages three and four. We had filled a large trailer behind an ATV with gravel, and we were shoveling it onto some places in a path that had become muddy.
Bruce was up on the mountain of gravel in the trailer, enthusiastically throwing gravel everywhere with his little shovel. The gravel was needed only on one side of the trailer—not in every direction—so I suggested to Bruce that he shovel the gravel just to that side. We didn’t need gravel on the other side, where years of leaves had piled up beside the path. I wasn’t the slightest bit insistent, much less annoyed, so I was surprised when almost immediately he put down his shovel, climbed off the trailer, and busied himself doing something else.
Bruce showed no disappointment or irritation when he stopped shoveling. He simply had been having fun spreading the gravel in all directions, and when I interfered with his plans by offering a modification, he decided—almost certainly unconsciously, because of his age and because of no evidence of annoyance—that he’d rather do something else. Bruce’s shoveling a few handfuls of gravel on the leaves wasn’t hurting anyone, or creating a danger, or wasting resources to any degree that mattered. In short, my feedback—though well-meaning and not unkind—was just unneeded and unproductive.
On the whole, when people are having fun—as Bruce obviously was—it’s because they’re doing what they WANT to do. And rarely do they appreciate interference with their pleasure. Sure, if having fun involves damaging property, creating dangerous situations, or hurting people’s feelings, it’s appropriate to say something, but mostly we need to be slow to offer feedback that is unwanted and unnecessary.