Thursday, July 31, 2008

All I Really Need To Know...

I learned in Kindergarten.

It's too bad I forget things sometimes.

Though I'm sure the same will happen with Eliza as she grows up, raising my oldest daughter, Hannah, during these precarious pre-intermediate school years has offered me a refresher course in some of life's most basic principles. That is, as I help my daughter learn how to be a good friend, a responsible citizen, a respectful student, and an overall kind human being, I'm reminded of how I too should go about accomplishing these goals. Her peer network is becoming more fraught as she enters fourth grade, and the groundwork is being laid for the coping skills she'll need to survive high school and beyond. This past weekend, she had what I can only hope was a learning moment, while I had a priceless (re)learning moment.

After having a sleepover with a friend on Friday night, then playing with this friend most of Saturday, she came home Saturday evening in tears. Another neighborhood girl had joined them that afternoon, and Sleepover Friend and Neighborhood Girl began planning their own sleepover for Saturday night. In front of Hannah, the two girls chatted excitedly about the awesome Wii games they'd play and what they'd get to do together on Sunday morning. Hannah was crushed. She felt left out and hurt, at which point she came home (across the street) seeking comfort and advice.

My initial response was to explain to her that, throughout life, she just wouldn't be able to participate in every "thing" her friends do (every sleepover, playdate, night at the movies, etc.). She seemed to understand this, though, and she explained that she was hurt not merely because she'd been left out of the plans, but because the girls were talking about their plans in front of her. Hannah has been taught that this (like whispering in front of others) is rude behavior. And it is. Talking about plans one has made with one person (or a group of people) in front of another person (or persons) who've been excluded from the plans is rude, inconsiderate, and hurtful.

So, the question became: What to do? This is when I realized that Hannah's dilemma was bigger than the moment. Bigger than a 9-year old's problem. This kind of stuff happens forever. Elementary school, junior high, high school...many of the nightmares we go through during our youth resurface in our adult lives. The roles/personas remain strikingly similar. The prom queen is still the prom queen; the mean girls often turn into mean women, and my stepdad is just as nerdy now as he ever was in high school. Surprisingly, the circumstances are largely unchanged. The thing that has the most potential to change is how we handle ourselves.

My first response to Hannah was "Try to toughen up, grow a thicker skin." Knowing how sensitive she is (part of ADHD) and how easily she gets her feelings hurt, I immediately put the burden on a 9-year child to change a defining characteristic of her being. Yeah, not my greatest parenting moment.

After thinking about it more, though, I realized that this is decent advice if used alongside two other suggestions. The first was to leave - just walk away - because who would want to play with people who are being rude to you anyway? The second was to have the strength to be honest and direct by calmly pointing out to the girls, "I'm sure you didn't mean to be hurtful or rude, but talking about your plans right in front of me really upset me." The purpose is not necessarily that Hannah can change their behavior; she probably won't. Rather, the purpose is gaining the confidence to speak up when something isn't right. Historically speaking, aren't those the people we esteem?

I don't know if any of those solutions made Hannah feel better in the moment, but I hope she remembers the advice I gave her in the future, because, unfortunately, she'll face countless more situations like this one. I'm thankful for the lessons she inadvertently teaches me along our parent/child journey, as it is easier to be strong when you're the one a child is looking to for strength.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

I am not looking forward to these parental challenges, at all. But I do think it's true that all you really need to know you learn in kindergarten. In fact, my college application essay question was to write about a work of art that was inspiring and why, and I wrote about Fulgham's essay and the significance of building strong foundations upon which to grow. Good job, AcadeMama!