Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"You're not my friend"

Pynchon and I were animatedly discussing our respective workdays at the dinner table last night while Munchkin demolished her plate of cheese, breaded tofu sticks, and pears. As she finished eating she began to clamour for a turn to talk, to tell us about her day.

That's what family supper is all about, right?

"So, Munchkin, what did you do at preschool today?" I asked her

"Great!" she replied, I guess to a question I didn't ask her. "We had a librarian read books! About community helpers! Like a fireman!" And here she paused to consider, "And also? We had naps!"

Pynchon and I looked at each other over our forks: could this be any more adorable? Aw, look, the three year old is trying to make grownup conversation. How innocent and lovely.

"Did you go outside today, Munchkin?" Pynchon asked.

"Yes, and we played and played ... it was a game called 'you're not my friend.'"

And that's when my heart stopped. 'You're not my friend' is a game I remember well from my own youth, generally with me as its target, at the centre of a gaggle of girls pointing and frowning and testing the authority and heft of their voices. Me, lined up with all the other kids in the classroom for a walk to the gym, as all those girls moved off the white squares in the tile and onto the orange ones to distinguish themselves from me.

I looked at her closely: no signs of hurt or worry on her face. I was relieved, for a moment, to think that maybe she was in the in-group rather than the excluded one. Then horror at this flash. Then wondering what to do? What to say? I'm not ready to deal with this yet!!!

Isn't that always the way, though? We--parents--aren't ready when some new developmental milestone hits us in the face? It's rather easier to be surprised by crawling and talking, though, than by the development of a differential social awareness in your preschooler.

So I just smiled and made a note to talk to the teacher this morning. Apparently, 'You're not my friend' is sweeping the preschool rooms, and the teachers are putting the anti-bullying pedagogy into full gear, with stories about friends and lessons about kindness. But I should still do something.

I know that I'm lucky that Munchkin is unable to realize that some information is better not shared with Mom and Dad: I don't want to jeopardize her openness with us by immediately jumping on her disclosures as a reason to lecture or chastise her. But I don't want to just smile when she tells me about hurting other kids' feelings, either.



Jenifer said...

This hits close to home...not having kids in daycare I was quite unprepared for what JK would bring. I was stunned to witness kids picking on and singling out other kids at such an early age.

Our school is big on anti-bullying and in addition to working into daily classroom life we have had many presentations... Argos...Raptors, even Olympic athletes in hopes this would resonate with the students.

Neither of my girls have been targeted to the point of intervention, but it is more of the overall group situations. There is always one bossy kid running the show and deciding who gets to play, who doesn't, who is in and who is out.

Papoosie Girl has her heart on her sleeve and many nights would come home in tears because one of her friends was excluded from the group putting her in the middle. The issue was when we would try to explain to her that one person does not get to decide who does what, she said they go along because she gets really mean and mad when they don't. She quickly became known for sticking up for the victim which in turn made her stick out.

Papoosie Girl has known these kids since JK so she thinks they are all great friends when really there are some seriously manipulative girls in the group.

Last year there was one girl who was out of control and after enough parents contacted the teacher (myself included) they had an intervention of sorts headed by the schools social worker. They call it "restorative justice" and the person must face their targets. All the girls in the class had to say why, in front of this girl, they were afraid of her. It worked, sort of. She was kind and nice for about a week and PG came home one day and said to me, "well that didn't last long did it."

This is getting so long, but really I think it is important for you to follow your own path and make sure Munchkin hears it from you too. I think that makes all the difference in the world.

Most of the bullies in our school don't exactly come from homes with caring parents and lots of communication. While that may not be the case all the time, it has been in my experience.

Cloud said...

I am so not ready for the meanness thing. It, in fact, scares me senseless as I look ahead to parenting challenges to come.

I largely escaped the meanness when I was little, but my sister did not, and I think it had a lasting impact. I want to protect my little girls from that and keep them from perpetrating it on someone else.

I have no real advice for you. All I can think of is to try to use play to bring this up in a non-judgmental manner, a la the ideas in Playful Parenting. The idea in that book is that kids use play to work through the things that are going on in their lives, so play is a good way to tackle hard issues. Does Munchkin play with dolls? Could you have them play a round of "you're not my friend" and have you play the "not friend" doll, so that you could try to act out the hurt? I suspect Munchkin has plenty of empathy and will "get it" with a little help from you.

Mamalooper said...

There's another great book called "You Can't Say You Can't Play". The girl's JK follows it's philosophy. And the "you are not my friend" is part of that.

On the one hand, it's the kids trying out heavy handed ways of managing their budding relationships. Someone wants to join the fun and instead of saying, "I'll play with you in a bit; we're in the middle of our pretend right now", they say "go away, you are not my friend".

On the other hand, the "mean girls" are already out there in force and use it as a nasty tool.

I like Cloud's idea of using play to work it out. And Jenifer, the girl also has a girl that she thinks is a great friend who I have had to minimize playdates because she is a bit bossy and nasty at times.

Mamalooper said...

And I get the lump in my throat too about this - does it have to start THIS early????

Bea said...

Pie and two other girls were playing EXACTLY this game (with the same name) a couple of weeks ago. Pie was sad about it, so I have a feeling it was directed mostly at her, but I'm friends with the mother of one of the other girls, and that girl (who is normally quite a good friend of Pie's) insisted that everybody got a turn to be the "not friend." In their case, it had to do with the tensions of three-way friendship - all three of the girls are a lot happier, I think, when there are just two of them. But the other day Pie came home saying that she had played with BOTH these girls, and then she got a funny grin on her face. "Anne's mom said that if we all three played together, she would do cartwheeling!" So try it. it really works.

Bon said...

oh, sadness.

...and one of the drawbacks of having my kid in a home care setting is when he comes home & says the older boy at daycare pushes and tells him he can't do stuff, i meet a wall, b/c older boy has been w/sitter since he was 5 wks old and is her substitute son, and she's not required to HAVE an official pedagogy.

and i don't know what to say to that.

To Munchkin, though, my advice would be to talk to her about how it feels to be left out, how it feels to feel powerful, how other people's feelings matter. can't hurt.

Omaha Mama said...

Oh yes. Welcome to preschool. Shocking, isn't it?! B faced a little girl in kindergarten readiness class at the ripe old age of four who told her she couldn't be a princess if she didn't wear a skirt or dress. So B refused to wear pants that whole year. Yuck. She still faces some of it, but wears such a brave face. She knows when kids aren't being nice that it's their own problem. I also told both of my kids to tell a teacher "I need your help" if someone is making them sad or uncomfortable, so they won't be accused of tattling.

My little guy faces it now. The four-year old boys tell the "little" boys, which includes my M, that they are not their friends. So boys play "You're not my friend" too. Yuck again.

The great part is that your Munchkin has unconditional love and acceptance at home, which makes facing any jerks during the day doable! Still, I remember how upset I was when it first started happening!