“Mama, tell Brianna’s mum that I don’t want a playdate.” I ignore her and keep talking, entertaining the idea of the playdate that Brianna herself has asked me for before and for which I now find myself being approached by her Mum.
Sensing the fact that this might just go ahead without her approval, my daughter panics and jumps in, patting Brianna’s mum on the arm. “I don’t want a playdate with Brianna.” Simple, short and to the point. She knows I’m embarrassed and the silence hangs in the air as I struggle to find words that might dull the sharpness of her declaration.
“A, don’t say that. That’s not nice. She’s just tired,” I apologise to Brianna’s Mum.
I don’t know why I’m embarrassed. My daughter should be able to decide who she likes and with whom she wants to have a playdate. It’s not everyone that my daughter will become friendly with and it looks like despite my having a great relationship with her Mum, A does not like Brianna.
It’s a familiar story in our household, where after school conversations are dominated by who A played with, whom she didn’t and why or why not. “Why don’t you ever play with Sam?” “Because I just don’t, Mama. I don’t like him.” I wince at the matter-of-fact tone she adopts, taking me back to that place of pain at being the one left out when I was growing up.
My daughter is reasonably popular in her class, having gone through a period of settling in earlier in the year and experiencing her dose of feeling left out of the already-established peer groups. She came home a couple of times crying because she wasn’t asked to join in with the girls who were playing a game outside.
Slowly and gradually, I was able to convince her that she shouldn’t take it personally and that she should just continue being herself and people would like her.
Months later and she’s more at ease now, less desperate to be friends with certain people and confident in herself that she can do her own thing and others may or may not join her, but it doesn’t matter. It’s had a profound effect on her confidence and it seems others are now doing the chasing.
As she gets older, of course she is going to have more established peer groups which will form according to their likes and dislikes and what they have in common. But I thought at such a young age, most of the kids play with each other. Is this is an opportunity to teach her inclusion using her valuable after-school time as the forfeit, I wonder?
And now that she is the one being chased, how do I instill in her that feeling of compassion for others, careful not to live out my own childhood feelings of exclusion and bullying through her just because she is popular and confident. She hasn’t done anything wrong and she doesn’t want the playdate. So why can’t I leave it at that?
She groans as I gently suggest to her after school that we should have a playdate with Brianna. “Nooooo, Mama.”
I’m out of my element here, caught between respecting my child and what she wants and using this as an opportunity to teach. I drop it and make the decision to tell her a story about how it feels to be left out at bedtime.
The next day A comes home to tell me that she sat beside Brianna at lunchtime. “I saved her a spot in line as well,” she says proudly. Before I can respond, she’s already skipping off happily showing her sister the daffodils that have just begun to sprout.
A didn’t want the playdate and she shouldn’t have to. She knows that being kind is the lesson here. But extending that to two hours of forced play seems unfair when she’s done exactly what she knows I want her to do.
I smile as I realise the rest of the lesson is for me. To trust that she can and will do the right thing. On her own terms. And it’s that simple.
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