My girls are seven and a half, and girls that age, it would appear, begin to sort themselves and each other out, and to call out each other's behaviour in a big way.
Drawing by little-drawing-wall via Tumblr,
used with permission
This is not entirely innate. Our schools are trying their hardest to combat the twin scourges of bullying and childhood anxiety, and kids are being drilled in the language of self-defense and resilience, and in recognizing and calling out bad behaviour. Is it all a bit heavy-handed? Who knows - they are certainly handling it twenty times better than schools did in my day, so you know, carry on.
But kids absorb messages in unexpected ways, and are expert at subverting them too. (As in the boy who was mean to A. in the playground and then sneered when she got upset, "So? 'Bounce back'!")
It will be interesting to see how this generation of youngsters grows up, and what ails them. (I am guessing the same old stuff).
Anyway, all of a sudden the things my girls are telling me about school every day (and into the night) are sounding like this:
"I don't want to be friends with L anymore, she is so rude and she is always lying."
"B was upset today because C said she was rude but I know she wasn't rude, she was upset because D said she was bossy."
"R and L are always fighting, and it gives me a big headache. And I tell them, 'Girls, stop fighting! I want to be both of your friend but you have to get along!' And I say that every day, mum, it's every day!"
"I really like R, she is my best friend, but she is mean to L and then sometimes I have to go and help L, and I like L. But then L gets mad at me and she's rude to me, and it's not my fault. And L said her mum told her not to play with me and R anymore."
At first when these things cropped up I had all the answers. I gave what I thought was good advice, stressing the importance of friendship, compromise, sharing, understanding, and being nice to each other. I suggested specific things to say which I thought were helpful. I think sometimes they were helpful, sometimes not.
Now I'm feeling less sure. More and more I feel like I don't have answers to the kinds of questions they are bringing home.
M. in particular is bringing home these fraught conversations every day, and tells me about them in stories that go on for 15 minutes or more while I sit there and nod and say "Mmmm" and wait for her to finish.
I know all these girls moderately well. I don't kid myself I know everything, because I am a grown-up and not hanging out in the school yard. I don't kid myself my daughter is an angel - in fact I spend half the time she tells me these stories looking out for what she has done 'wrong' or is not telling me. Then I sense she knows this and may sometimes twist a story a little to keep herself out of blame. Then I think I'm being unfair and then I think, crap! I've lost the thread of what she's telling me while I'm thinking all this!
My daughter M is empathetic and very good at making friends, and is pretty popular. As a result she is loving herself sick at the moment, and that can make her a bit cavalier with her friends. But she does worry about all her friends and tries to 'look after' everyone. At least, that's what I think is happening.
R is her best friend and a lovely kid, who has been used to having M all to herself for awhile and is not thrilled about others joining their 'group'.
L is new, and has few friends. She is a sweet kid and loves M. L's mum hosted a playdate to get all the kids playing together and help foster friendships for her daughter, and a week later I had the kids over to our house as well. From what I've seen and what I deduce from M's nightly tales of woe, it's possible L may be one of those kids who struggles a bit with friendships and social niceties (as my other daughter A has done a bit).
The kids have dobbed on each other to yard duty teachers and their class teacher, and have got varied advice, from 'you have to sort it out yourselves' to the same kind of advice I was giving, and finally to 'don't play with each other anymore!'
I worry about L and her parents are so lovely, and I've been really tempted to call her mum and talk about it - but I don't think that would be a good idea. We don't know each other well enough, and she might think I am criticizing her child or defending mine; and I also don't want to interfere and push their friendship if it's really not working.
I'm thinking I'll talk to the class teacher and ask for her thoughts. Maybe she can have a chat to all three kids - but I think she may already have done that.
I don't want to 'fix' friendships or solve every problem for my kids. (Well of course I do want to but I know I can't). I would just like to know what to say when they talk to me about these things.
It would be nice if I was skilled at the social stuff myself, so I would know what to do!
So I'm off to visit the websites of Easy Peasy Kids and Michael Grose in search of some ideas.
How do you deal with this stuff? I need some tips!