Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm Gonna Need a Little Help On This One

Be forewarned, I want to have a discussion. So that means you are entering this post with an obligation. Discuss. I'm firm on this. You do have something to say. Because you were all in elementary school once. And high school. And beyond. I am going to have a little trouble not being judgmental. And you will have to forgive me for that. Because I truly do want the insight of the side opposite the side I am familiar with. I know there has to be a mindset or a justification or perhaps, a sort of innocence that comes with this. And hey, wouldn't it be the strangest thing if I turned out to be guilty anyway. Let me hear that too. Kumbaya, guys. We are all here to understand and get along.

Okay, seriously though, what is the deal? I really want to know, so your insight is valuable, even as a "perpetrator." Amabel came home today and told me something, not for the first time, second time, or even the third time this year, that no one would play with her today at recess. What in the world?! Have any of y'all ever been around Amabel? I mean, I'm no first grader and I am rather biased as her mother, but she really is a sweet little girl. She is funny and smart and kind. And the thing is, I have heard other mothers say this sort of thing happens to their kids, kids that are also sweet and cute and kind. Maybe it is a universal "kids are mean" kind of thing, but I just don't understand. Moreover, it is not that she is just not being invited to play, it is that she is actually asking kids if she can play with them and they are saying no! Not just one kid either. Like she asks this kid and she says no so she goes and asks a kid in another group and she says no. I am starting to think it needs to be mentioned to the administration. So maybe y'all think that is overreacting and I am fine if you want to say that. My feeling is that this is a Christian school where the kids are being taught to actively care for God's creatures by caring for plants, animals, and even worms! They sponsor orphans overseas and are learning again and again that God's creatures are valuable, and particularly that people are made in God's image and have dignity. And then they treat each other that way?!

Okay, so I am really sensitive. And evidently, I have the bar raised too high for how nice we should be to each other. Or so I'm told. I am not saying that Amabel should have the red carpet rolled out for her. And like I said, if she was telling me no one was playing with her and she meant that no one was inviting her to play, although I would be sad about it, I would encourage her to make an effort on her own to invite them to play with her. But she's doing that! Now also, this doesn't happen every day. But I don't understand why it is happening at all. I know she is discouraged even though she handles it very well. It breaks my heart for her because I don't want her to get the message somehow that she is just not fun or that no one wants to be her friend. I know that is a leap. But it really only takes the same person/people doing the same thing for just so long before you really start to take that message they're sending you to heart.

We had a great time at our friends' river house, by the way, but I shall save that post for another time. While we were there though my friend Rebekah and I had a conversation about a situation in my past where an individual essentially sabotaged my efforts to join a group and make new friends. Particulars beyond that might reveal too much, but suffice it to say that this situation was really difficult for me and I cannot see any way that this person could not have known exactly what they were doing. And I had a hard time for the rest of the day after Rebekah and I talked about that, trying to shake off what happened to me during that time, years ago now, because remembering it brought it to mind so much more clearly (hindsight's 20/20 and all that) how unjust and unkind this individual had been to me. I was unaware until we discussed it how much I had absorbed the feelings of exclusion and loneliness into my psyche. Okay, that sounds weird, but I guess I just mean that I really bought into this message that I was unwelcome and just someone that people did not want around. And if you know me, you know that's exactly how I act, like "please do excuse me for being alive and in your way; I must be going now." I think there are other factors to that, not that this one person is completely to blame. But my point is that since then I have kind of been standing back saying "What the heck?! Why are people deliberately unkind? Why do they deliberately leave people out?" (And incidentally, "why am I so quick to think it is just me that is unlovable and not that this other person is unloving?")

Then I have also had a conversation with another mom, like I said, who is having a similar problem with her child at the school her child attends, and then today Amabel comes home with this! And you know, the whole "kids are mean" thing? Why are kids mean? I know that they are selfish and immature. Heck, I'm selfish and immature. I just don't understand the exclusion thing. Or like how in fifth grade Holly Davis regularly made fun of my clothes. Yeah, she would pretend to like them and then she would ask me where I got them. Well, then I would tell her Carter's or Ross Dress For Less and she would repeat it like "Oh....Carter's" and sort of giggle like she just needed to know where they were from to complete the joke. Whatever, I'm sure I totally dressed like a dork. But I just never was one of those kids that decided I didn't like someone or made fun of someone. I only didn't get along with people if they didn't like me, or, let's just be honest here, if it was behind their back. I know I said some ugly things a time or two behind someone's back to get a laugh. But no one's laughing but you if you say it in front of someone and mortify them. No one with feelings anyway. And who just decides not to like someone? The only reason to not like someone is because they are not nice to you. And that takes us back to why aren't people nice?

Well, don't I sound self righteous? I really don't mean to. I understand this on some level, I think. And I can bet I would be very humbled if I was shown a list of all the people I had been not nice to for no reason even if I can't remember now. But I just wonder what y'all have to say. Were you an excluder? I'm sure you're not now, but just help me understand why you were way back when. Or were you often excluded? Why do you think that was? Everyone comment. Tell me to beat down the door of the headmistress' office or to let my six year old fight her own battles. I am listening. To anyone except Holly Davis. Holly Davis, do not comment. You are not very nice and none of us wants to hear what you have to say. (But in case you really are out there and you're wondering, right now I am wearing a wonderfully soft and fuzzy pink robe that George got me for my birthday from the Gap, a really really old Auburn RUF tee shirt, and Old Navy pajama pants.) Good night, all!

14 comments:

Renae said...

My oldest has gotten the "Can I play with you?" "No." stuff. We said, why don't you just go up and say, "Hey, whaddya doin?" and don't *ask* to play because then you're just given them an invitation to say no.

She said, "You just don't understand." OK, so, yes, I've probably forgotten some of the nuances of the playground.

I would say that, yes, it would be a good idea to talk to the teacher or maybe better yet the principal. Recess is so unstructured and could use some attention from the grown-ups.

And I'm going to have a talk with my 6-year-old. :)

jennifer h said...

Abby,
First, this happens in every school, and even church/Sunday school situations. A lot has to do with the basic truth that "kids are mean." But, a lot of it has to do with how the kids are taught at home.

I think you really need to talk with the teacher. In first grade especially, if the teacher begins to emphasize the need to be kind to each other and then follows through with admonitions to children she hears being unkind, the atmosphere of the class can really change. But if the teacher doesn't see it as a problem, it likely won't change.

I agree with your first commenter that asking "Can I play?" is always an invitation for almost any kids to feel like they have the power to say no and to exclude someone.

I'll be praying that Amabel will have an easier time at school.

lauren said...

Ugh, Abby, that is so hard. I totally understand what you are going through-as a mom and from my own childhood. It's funny how I can remember 5th grade like it was yesterday. It was Missy Urbani, and she decided to get most of the 5th grade girls to gang up against me and call me names, one of which was a "ho". I DREADED the playground everyday and would cry at home every night. I finally went to the school counselor, who brought Missy in and confronted her. The counselor asked her if she even knew what a 'ho' was and she broke down and started bawling!!! All of a sudden I realized that she wasn't so cool-just insecure and just wanted to feel better about herself by ganging up on me. I share that to identify with you on your personal story. I think most of us have one, unfortunately.

But I do thank God that it has made me HYPERSENSITIVE about my own children's behavior. I am constantly reminding Ellie to invite someone new to play with her today, make sure no one is left out, ALWAYS welcome people who want to play with her, etc., etc.

As far as Amabel, here are a few things I've learned so far about having a little girl in school. One is that it is possible that it's Amabel's perception. Ellie was the new girl last year in a group that had been together in MDO for a few years. She would come home and say the same thing (so and so won't play with me) and I mentioned it to her teacher and her teacher looked shocked! She said that Ellie is one of the biggest social butterflies and plays with everyone. She said it's common for them to come home and say that and it's usually the ones that are fitting in fine. Not to say you shouldn't look into it or believe what she's saying...but to take everything they say with a grain of salt. There might be more to the story.

On the other hand, I'd agree w/the poster above, start with the teacher that is supervising the playground. Mention it to her and ask her to keep an eye on Amabel and the behavior of the girls in general. We did have an issue with a little girl in afterschool care (Ellie goes for an hour everyday) that was being a bully. Just silly things like sticking her tongue out, pushing, scribbling an ugly picture and handing it to Ellie, saying she couldn't play w/them, etc. So I politely mentioned it (kind of fearing I'd look like the over protective parent) and the teacher was SO glad I said something. She said it's hard to keep an eye on everyone, but it helps to be aware of a specific person. She kept a tight reign on this little girl for about a week and that did the trick.

The last thing I've learned is to let Amabel pick a friend over to play. Or maybe one a month. I think it helps a ton if they can get out of the school environment and create a bond.

Anyway, sorry this is the longest comment EVER...I almost just emailed you, but maybe someone else out there is struggling w/this too. I'll be praying for wisdom for you and for Amabel.

the good, the bad & the ugly said...

Abby,
I am sorry that Amabel is learning hard lessons. Ouch, that is hard. I think kids do this type of behavior because they are desperate to be a part of a group, for security and safety. And when someone else wants in, they can be heartless and put up awful walls. We are all so deeply selfish and often don't want others to share in our "glory".
Whatever you do, I would recommend that you never, ever call these children mean to Amabel. She can learn a very beautiful life lesson in selflessness here, sacrificing to be like Jesus. She can learn to pray for these girls. She can learn to not be a victim. She can learn that her identity absolutely will not be established by what others think of her. These are WONDERFUL lessons that will help her much more in living for Christ, much more than having a few friends on the playground.
Jaybird found a little exclusion for a while in pe because he is not athletic. We spent much time, many conversations and prayer reminding him of his gifts. Reminding him not to wish his gifts away. Reminding him that Jesus calls us to respond in kindness. (Which is much easier with children who really are mostly unaware of their cruelty than adults who we hope would know better!) It was not easy for us or him. We wanted to be mad at these children. But that was silly and unbiblical as we see our own sin face to face each day and shouldn't have been at all surprised by theirs.
Eventually, Jack began to love his special gifts and his teacher gave him the opportunity to share them. He reads very, very well. He began to buddy up with the slow readers (mostly those athletic boys that called him slowpoke in pe), and they began to appreciate his gifts. I even overheard him helping a little boy named Sammy that can't read up to par and saying, "It's okay buddy. It's not your gift. But you have other gifts, don't worry. Let's just do the best we can." Hillariously mature. But I was thankful that God gave Him the grace to understand what we had been talking about.
One last thing, absolutely talk to the teacher. You are only delegating school time to the teachers, but ultimately you hold the responsibility to educate Amabel, as I'm sure you know. And any time there is something going on behind the scenes, a good teacher will always welcome insight and even advice. Pray about how you want this situation to be handled, and then request to the teacher that she handle it your way (as long as it follows along with her schedule and rules). You have every right here as her Mommy.
Again, sorry you and Amabel are faced with a difficult situation. There....is that enough discussion for you? :) Sorry this was so long, but as a former teacher and now a parent I guess I had a lot to say!

vwlaura120 said...

Hey Abby,

as a teacher in a Christian School, I see this all the time with my students, and it is awful! Not only that, but because most of our students are there together from Kindergarten to 8th grade, it perpetuates. so yes, say something to the teacher, but in a very calm and levelheaded manner. You don't want to become "that" mom that the other moms and teachers and even kids associate with being the "play with my kid!" mom. silly sounding, right?

Take for example one of my 8th graders. She is wonderful. A beautiful young girl, very mature for her age, and very levelheaded. Since 5th grade the other girls have not liked her. Ostrisizing her, threatening to beat her up and making fun of her to her face for her hair (beautiful black, pin straight and easy to curl hair). She's been called stupid on multiple occasions, and she is actually one of the smartest girls, test wise and socially, in her grade. she's been called immature, when she's the only one who can sit down with a teacher and discuss the whole situation. and she has been called a slut for having friends who are boys and happen to go out with the girls that don't like her. I always sit and listen to her and remind her that she's better than these girls. That she's more mature and beautiful, and they see that but instead of appreciating it, are jealous, because they're not as beautiful on the inside.

Obviously your little one is much littler than my students, but I think that the social interaction is something that kids need to work out on their own and have a little help in. If the teacher has not said anything to you and this is something that has been going on from time to time, its time for you to say something. Perhaps she can have a lesson in group interaction of some kind. Or, perhaps it is time to set up some playdates (do you moms still call them that?) and invite the kids over to the house or to the park, one at a time, then 2 or three together so that the group interaction can increase.

Psychologically, I think this approach would be good, because it is not too forced.

Keep us all posted!

Laura

Abby said...

Oh y'all! This is great! I appreciate everyone's well thought comments about this, and welcome more. Thanks so much to each of you and for the prayers you have/will pray on my little girl's behalf. I am very grateful. I have several thoughts. First of all, fifth grade huh? Three of us have fifth grade stories, like that is the year I think I may now be dreading! I guess that is when girls start really getting mean? Yikes!

One of my concerns is that the teacher's child is one of the ones that is, let's say "fickle." Best friends one day, "no you can NOT play with me" another day. I LOVE the teacher and his wife and their kids. So I would never say that this particular child IS mean (good advice, "Good"). She is darling. Same thing with your sweetie, Renae (who incidentally has not been mentioned as an "excluder" or I would've talked to you about it and not posted it for you to discover here!)But I just don't get the mean act of excluding someone. And I remember it a little bit from this early age, but I switched schools due to moves nearly every year until fifth grade so I don't really remember specific things so well. Anyway, I worry about being "that mom" like Laura said, and especially when I am dealing with the teacher as my child's teacher and also as a parent of my child's friend. I feel bad putting him in that awkward situation. I also know that playground duty changes every day so who knows which teacher is even there to keep an eye on things- that to say that I am not sure Amabel's teacher has anything to do with what happens at recess, but I suppose he could point me to who does. And you know, it is a general thing that is happening, it's just that his child is one of the ones participating sometimes. But for all I know, Amabel could be doing the same thing other times. I asked her if she ever said no to someone (but probably in a way that made her know the answer had better be no) and she said no. I told her she must never tell someone they can't play, that there's always room for one more. But I think what Lauren said about encouraging her to be proactive, to make sure to include others and reach out is a really good point. She has been the "new" girl and no one else has come after her, but it has been almost a year and that "new" status is not really valid anymore. For all we know, there is a little girl on the same playground who has these feelings every day!

Jennifer, you mentioned something that Renae said before about the "power" to say no, which is something I understand as far as that I know what you mean, but I guess I just can't imagine it occurring to me now or even as a child. I just wonder why that "power" would be something you'd want. But we all have our vices. I am sure others can't imagine why I drool over designer children's clothes or carry on my ridiculous OCD habits in regard to laundry and food preparation (greed and vanity, anyone?)

Another thing that "Good" mentioned is that maybe the kids don't want her to join the group for fear their own security might be threatened. And I guess that is the answer to the "power" question. They want the power to secure their own position in the group, even if it means someone else gets hurt. And that really is understandable, not nice, but it sheds some light on why these things happen. You know the whole "she's just jealous" thing gets so old. But like the story Lauren told, sometimes it can be pretty clear that at the very least the "mean" acting person is threatened.

Lauren, Laura, I like the playdate idea. I have been wanting to have some little girls over, especially our teacher's little girl. Maybe if they can play together and realize that they are on the same "side," not a threat to each other, there would be no reason to exclude each other.

And Good, I like what you said about gifts. I am reading a book right now about adults using their gifts- it's tough when you were definitely NOT cut out to be a preschool teacher but that is what your life looks like for the past and probably future seven years! I am trying to learn that it's okay that I am not the kind of mom some of my friends are, but that I still have gifts that are valuable to my family and to the church at large. I know the same thing applies to our children, and what a great thing to help them with early on so that they will be prepared if ever a season comes in their life where they feel completely inept as I have!

Continue to chime in as you have thoughts or comments. I am totally open to more insight and/or criticism/disagreement. This is great to talk through for me, and maybe for all of us, as this is the very beginning of a long career in parenting through the school years.

Wrights said...

Oh, Abby, That breaks my heart for Amabel. I don't think you are being self righteous at all, just a mom who is hurt for her child. Since my oldest is two, I don't really have advice from experience but I can say that I can distinctly remember things happening to me in elementary school that left an impact on me. I was just telling Nathaniel the other day about something that happened in 7th grade that shaped a lot the way I think about myself that I am STILL working through (SEVENTH GRADE for heaven's sake! You'd think I'd be over it by now!) But, all that to say, it IS a big deal because things like this do leave a lasting impression. Not that we get our worth from what others think of us, but we do fall into that and it's hard not to start thinking things about yourself when you continually are getting that mean message from others. You may have to say something to the teacher at some point but also do be careful about that. There was a girl who in 5th grade told her mom I was mean to her and I didn't even know I had been mean to her but we had to have a big meeting with our moms about how I was mean and then I really didn't want to be around her because I was scared she'd tell on me again. (I am sure I must have done something to her that upset her, I just didn't get it at that point.) Anyways, I am not much help but I just feel for you. I can only imagine how mad/hurt I will be when my girls come home and tell me that someone won't play with them. I think you are right to take it seriously though. I hope things get better. Keep us posted!

lauren said...

Chiming in to agree with "Good" about not labeling the kids as "mean" to Amabel. One thing that was neat to see was Ellie on her knees asking God to change the "bully's" heart (even though my flesh wanted to march up to school and take care of her myself!).

Just remind her that these girls are God's creation and that they are struggling with sin in their life just like you and I do. I think it would be a sweet lesson for her to watch God change their hearts. It would speak volumes to Amabel about going to God when others hurt her or let her down.

You should definitely invite a girl or 2 over...you're so creative, they'd have a blast! We had a little girl over last year to make gingerbread houses, so Ellie could get to know them. You could bake Valentine cookies w/them or something like that!

jennifer h said...

One more thing . . . I know what it is like to have rotating teachers on the playground at recess. My suggestion about talking to the teacher is not that he doesn't need to single one child out as being "mean," but put an emphasis on the need for all of us to be kind to one another. Little kids usually respond to this sort of repetitive character building talk. I know you have to be sensitive to how you suggest this to the teacher, but Nevin's second grade teacher was really awesome at doing this. Some of the boys in his class had the tendency to be really mean, but when they were in school with their 2nd grade teacher, they were really kind to each other. I can only hope that will take root for the future.

abby said...

rebekah, that is one thing i have considered, sort of like what lauren said, if the kids are completely unaware of what they are doing. i am not sure how amabel is at school and she could be asking with a lot of indifference or something so that no one has any idea she has her feelings hurt. i totally understand the working through of things that happened long ago. some things just hurt worse and longer than others. i guess that is why this is of such importance to me.

and lauren, i appreciate what you said about though we don't label the child as mean, we can say that their actions are sin and pray for them. i wanted to make sure the distinction was there too. i think we do a lot of harm when we make our kids always understand the other side and only worry about themselves without acknowledging that the other person is wrong. i know this should be done with humility and with consideration of a possible "log in your own eye vs. the speck in someone else's," but if that is not the case, then it is okay to acknowledge that the other person is making bad choices. i got to the point where i wouldn't talk to my mom about anything because no matter how hurt i was, she always had advice for me, told me how i could do something and it would all come to right as if it were my fault, without ever acknowledging that the other person was a big part of the problem. i know most situations have two sides, but a lot of parents seem to acknowledge only the side they can do something about, and when that is the side "less at fault," it is really unfair. My mom has since explained that she just wanted me to handle myself in hard situations well. i never got that message though. i got the "everything is your fault, if you would just try harder" message. and while we don't want our kids walking around being victims, a certain degree of sensitivity and comfort, an acknowledgment that they have indeed been wronged, goes a long way in helping them discern what sorts of choices to make themselves while also being assured that someone who loves them understands and is on their side.

jennifer, i hear what you're saying. i was just adding that it does complicate things when the teacher has a child involved- makes it a little more individualized, unfortunately (also, considering there are only 8 kids in Amabel's class). but yeah, i don't want to draw lines of "victims" and "perpetrators" at her school, i think a more general message given to the whole group is more appropriate like you said. because, as you also said, this happens at church and in the neighborhood etc. and as i have been thinking about it more, i am remembering my same little sweetie excluding her own brother in the past and how my heart broke for him because of her actions. so it definitely isn't certain kids being a certain way all of the time- most kids, if not all, could use the character building instruction.

the good, the bad & the ugly said...

Abby,
Like you, I have enjoyed this discussion very much, too. I appreciated what you shared with your own mom. It is so interesting how your perspective and Rachael's is so different when recalling childhood! It gives me much to think about with my own children and their perspective! Also, I wanted you to know that hugs, and kisses, and prayers together, acknowledging hurt and wrong doing are very important to me, as well. I only addressed in my comment what I thought you were asking for advice with, knowing fully by your tone that you were certainly not lacking in empathy. It seemed that you were asking more for how to take action and why children could be mean, so I addressed those issues. I am glad though to be reminded that it is extremely important to be your child's biggest fan, their cheerleader. That's the other side of the coin, for sure! Always pointing them to Christ, but meeting them where they are and loving and cherishing them and their needs. I appreciate that reminder! One more thing, it makes me sad to hear of parents avoiding conversations in order to avoid being "that parent". It reminds me that teachers can sinfully gossip about students and their parents and how that leads to parents feeling trapped into not communicating on issues like this one. How sad is that?

april said...

Abby,

We had some of this crap when Ellen was in school. It can't be totally avoided, that's true. I think you've been given some excellent advice.

I would encourage you to have Amabel pray for those that aren't playing with her and also to encourage her to never treat anyone in the manner that these children are treating her, because she knows how badly it hurts.

and then homeschool.....just kiddin'

Renae said...

Abby, I love this discussion, esp. following what we talked about last week. My 9-year-old had the same 1st grade teacher, and I remember he had to *stop class* one day and sit my daughter and another girl at the front of the class to work it out... it was very effective. (I love having male teachers at the school!)

Re: recess... try talking to the 1st grade ass't, KS, who I think is more involved with recess than most of the teachers... at the very least, I like her insights--she seems to know the kids pretty well and has lots of "mom" experience.

Finally, I like the prayer suggestion... I need to be more consistent on this with our 9-year-old, because I agree that it is so important to teach our kids to see their classmates as fellow children of God, not mean kids, bullies, enemies, whatever. I've prayed with and for her that God would show her how to love her classmates, even in some small tangible way, even in the face of lovelessness.

Amabel is such a sweetie. I'm sure she gets it from you. :) And George, too, of course. ;)

Abby said...

"good", I hope you didn't take what i said as an argument against what you said. i was just clarifying in case there was any room for misunderstanding. i know you well enough to know that you are very much the cheerleader. i remember very well lying sick in my sister's dorm room on a college visit while she was in class and your sweet attentions to me and ever after your always warmth and cheerfulness toward me, in spite of your roomie's sometimes lack thereof :) but your "roomie" is pretty great is she not? but yes, we do have very different perspectives on things. i sometimes wonder just which carney and ernie she must be referring to! oh and as for the gossiping, i think it's all of us who gossip, even with the kindest teachers in the world, there is always to fear that someone might gossip about me the same way i have gossiped myself. convicting, huh? then too, there is the stereotypical "that mom" who brings it on herself sometimes by all the hemming and hawing from her end. and none of us wants to be that guy!

hey april! i always love your spiritedness. that's right, it is crap! thanks for chiming in :)

renae, good recess tip. and you are very kind in your compliments to my family. amabel and i were just talking about having some girls over and TB and SJ are top of the list!

and can everyone tell i have been reading jane austen all weekend from this comment. that is the only negative side effect to reading her lovely works- i start saying things so british-y proper-y that i sound like i'm "putting on airs!"

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