My son got a starter Chuggington Train set about six months ago and at first he couldn’t even stand to play with it. He took the track apart, threw the trains around and got generally frustrated with it. As parents who are familiar with his odd likes and dislikes regarding his toys, we put the train set away for a later date. Forward to about three months ago, when I decided to try the train set again, this time on his toddler sized table. And for about 20 minutes, he took the trains around and around the track with no problems! Issue resolved, right? Nope, don’t be too sure. After a few days of playing nicely with the oval or round train set, our son went back to making the trains crash off the set and then got frustrated by it all, having a major toddler style meltdown. So the set was put away again for a few weeks.
He started asking for the trains one day. “Mamma, trains. Mamma, Chuggington trains”. So, rather than play with them, we watched videos of them – a bit in the hopes of him remembering the trains are supposed to stay ON the track. Because once the trains come off his track, we have a toddler meltdown to contend with, even if they come off deliberately by said toddler’s own hands. Oh, he learned a lot from watching Chuggington. He learned all the names of the trains he DIDN’T have and all the types of buildings he DIDN’t have! I thought he also learned to keep the trains on the track.
So, on a day when everything was going particularly smoothly, I relented and set up the little train set again. And he played with it for a few minutes and then promptly put the two locomotive cars (Koko & Wilson, for those who are familiar with the show) in the center of the circle, along with Vee, the dispatcher/speaker character. Then he walked away. I was confused and a bit frustrated. Didn’t he want to play with them? Nope, he wanted to set them up and find a new toy. This occurred each day for a bit – most days ending up with the trains and Vee in the center and the track looking barren. But he still continued to remind us that he was missing trains and buildings. Since he was actually playing nicely with them and not getting too frustrated, we relented and got more pieces. More trains, more buildings, and more track. My hubby is a train enthusiast, so if we were going to help build a train set, my hubby wanted it to be the best possible one. Our son loves the new trains – and knows all the names (including the ones he is still missing) – and loves the new buildings. With the few extra characters, we started trying to teach that even if he wanted the trains in the center, we might want to play with some of the trains ourselves. Not that we hadn’t been working on the concept of sharing with him, but for some reason, it really hit home with the Chuggington set. He started “allowing” us to play with a couple trains while his two trains remained in the center. He could frequently be heard reminding us (or himself) “Spposed to share”! It was so cute and we couldn’t help but relent and provide him with a few more trains and buildings and tracks. For hubby or for our son? I’m not sure which; maybe a bit of both. So for a month or so, he has had the routine of bringing the trains in his room every morning, setting up the layout (well, that’s left to the adults, but he supervises) and then sometimes, he plays with them and sometimes, they sit in the center of the tracks. In either case, eventually he does have some sort of frustration, but not a major meltdown like the first ones he had with the set.
Then there were two huge changes to the Chuggington style of play that made it more enjoyable. First, he finally learned how to get the pieces to lock together consistently, which means he can help build! And second, he decided that it was ok if he shared most of the trains! The only issues remained when the trains derailed or crashed or were prevented in some manner from going through the intended route. Again, even if it was caused by him on purpose, it often resulted in a meltdown.
Yesterday, he and I were playing with the train set and his blankets and pillows knocked over a whole section of track and the trains that were on it. I prepared for a meltdown. I was mentally coming up with some imaginative thing that happened in Chuggington to cause the disaster…a landslide, a giant came to visit, even just thinking of yelling out for the rescue trains to come…anything to keep the play fun and less meltdowny (new word?). And I paused and looked at him. Instead of a meltdown, he was laughing! He yelled out that they were now “pancakes”! I was/am amazed and overjoyed that he moved past the frustration that he was having with the trains and made it fun, even when things didn’t go as planned!
I am sure we will still have frustrating Chuggington days, but I’m going to keep the word “pancakes” right on the tip of my tongue for those days, because maybe it will work again! However our Chuggington play works out on a daily basis, I am thrilled that he has started to learn these three lessons: Sharing is necessary, perseverance will usually pay off, and not everything is a meltdown-worthy disaster! I think I might use the word “Pancakes” at the next toddler tantrum even if it is not precipitated by Chuggington issues and see how it goes!
Related to Chuggington frustrations, since we set up and break down the set each day, my hubby and I have been frustrated at the lack of layout plans to use to create a fun train set with all the buildings. I found a few online, and a few from Tomy toys, but none of them were great (or they were too sprawling). So I am adding some pics of our own layouts here in case other parents have similar issues.