It was a long day at kindergarten, as kids waited in the adjacent room during the parents-teacher conference at the end of the day.
They were happy together. Lately they don’t want to say goodbye to each other. The twin boys kept saying that Jackie is coming home with them. Jackie has developed a steady friendship with Bogdan, Stefan and Eric over the last three years. They are inherently kind and simple in their affection for Jackie. The feeling is mutual.
Truth is that Jackie is a daddy’s girl. She roughhouses. She is strong and funny. She understands boy humor and plays along well. No power plays, no drama.
I trust her instinct and her ability to read people. I personally don’t appreciate sarcasm and thus I don’t use it. But motherhood has brought out a side of me I wasn’t aware of. I occasionally respond sarcastically to which Jackie narrows her eyes at me and says: “you’re joking!” And then she waits silently. She always stops in her tracks and searches me with her eyes when my tone is even slightly incompatible with the words I say. I come clean every time because her honest reaction softens me. I acknowledge her ability to read me and I confirm her intuition.
Over the last two years, as smooth sailing as it has been befriending these boys, it has been equally hard navigating her friendship with girls. Certain little girls in school. The end of last school year was particularly rough, but this year things changed. Personally I have dealt with bullies very early on, but I adapted and put it behind me. Now I dig deep to find resources to help her long term.
I borrowed a wise approach from this children’s book. If someone is tormenting you, take a stand by putting your hand upfront like a policeman and say: “Stop. I don’t like what you do. Or I don’t like what you say.” If the bully doesn’t stop, go and tell the teacher.
What kind of torment can such a young child cause? Well, instigating name calling, influencing most kids to not play with some kids. Intentionally hitting hard, and then pretending you didn’t do it. Being a teacher’s pet ensures certain unfair perks and trust.
I have advised Jackie to not play with this little girl anymore, if she is so unkind to her. At the beginning of the year, Jackie told me she played nicely with two certain girls. “I think they’ve matured a bit over the summer” she said. But soon they slid back into old habits. So Jackie found steady friends to invest in. She made a wise observation at some point, when she finally let go: “When she is alone she is nice, she is really cool to play with. But when her best friend is here, most often she just tricks me. They pretend to be my friends but then they run away from me and laugh. And I don’t see it coming. That’s when it hurts.” Jackie has not been the only target. Everyone got a taste of it. But this year much has changed though. The kids, young as naive as they seem, in their innocence they learn the power of self-preservation. They don’t give course to the little bully power plays. It’s like they are all waking up and remove themselves from her manipulation. There is still hope. Her mom asked this week why her daughter does not like kindergarten anymore. Did something happen? One thing did. Her colleagues became more independent and self-sufficient.
The sad truth is that we will encounter people like that throughout the entire childhood and beyond. My intuition guided me not to fix a small teachable moment instead to teach her to navigate the unfairness of the world. She understands now full well how exclusion feels. And thus she has an extra ounce of empathy.
Her new neighbor and friend with whom she carpools is now in the same class, along with anther little girl she sees outside school, whose mom is my friend. It must be nice to be surround by friends, but it is not easy to be a popular kid. Others’ expectations, being pulled in different directions, make you feel like you don’t belong to yourself anymore. It’s a big burden. In my personal opinion, it outweighs the benefits. But that is her journey to navigate. And all I can encourage her to do is be kind and include others. And a big one to start so early: learn to communicate expectations even when they are not well received at first. “Right now I am playing a game with x. You want to play with us? Or do you want to play a game after I finish this?”