I've written before about how M used to have a hard time making friends. He was too rough, and too wild, and he just didn't 'get' other kids. They didn't get him either. He's come so far, and now, to my joy, he perks up when he hears the sounds of kids playing outside. It makes me so proud to see him race outside, scramble into his flipflops, and take his place as one of the neighborhood gang.
He's recklessly brave when it comes to asking, "Do you want to play?" Even with kid-strangers. Thank God (really, Thank you, God!) he's confident and other kids' reactions don't get him down. He sometimes runs back to me and reports with a shrug, "She said no!?" but it doesn't affect him. He's never hesitant to ask again because he was rejected earlier. But how much longer can this last?
I love that, at four, he has no concept of self-esteem or saving face or sour grapes. He doesn't sit on the sidelines in agony waiting for someone to smile at him before he works up his courage to join in the game. It doesn't even cross his mind that kids won't like him or won't want him to play. What can I do to keep this alive in him? I can't remember a time in my childhood when I wasn't plagued with worries like those, but surely at some point I was as carefree as he is. What happened to change that, and what can I do to make sure that never happens to my boy?
I try not to be a helicopter mom, I really do. But it's so hard. By the time we started M on his diet early this year, he already had a bit of a reputation with the neighborhood kids. Not that he was mean or anything, but more that he was a pest. M was the kind of kid that would start by innocently picking up a toy from the ground, but as soon as he saw that its owner wanted it back, would run away laughing. He'd think he was starting a game of chase; they'd start screaming that he stole their toy. And it didn't help that M was the only kid in the neighborhood who was expected (by us) to apologize when he made a mistake. So after a situation like that, I'd walk him back to the friend and have him say sorry. It just made everything worse, because it made M's errors stand out. The other kids all got in spats and fights and got over them and forgot about them without apologizing.
Score one for the not-helicopter parents, I guess. The kids all worked it out just fine. I can't say I would have done it differently, though, even if I could go back, because I do think it's important for people to acknowledge their mistakes and learn to make proper apologies. Miles does both with such grace for a four-year-old.
Anyway, despite his former role as M the Menace, he is now friends with all the little boys in the neighborhood. The girls, unfortunately, have been much harder to convert. Once they made up their mind that they didn't like him, they have been mercilessly cruel to him ever since. Does it count as bullying if you're too sweet and happy-go-lucky to have your spirit crushed by it? I stayed out of it for months, because I felt like I had learned my lesson about helicopter parenting and I was going to let them figure it out themselves. At some point they would give him a chance and realize that he's a funny, nice kid. But I had forgotten about the pack mentality and the particularly shocking capacity for meanness that small girls possess. Mostly, we'd leave when they got started and talk to him about how we don't have to spend time with people who are unfriendly to us if we don't want to.
Finally, about 2 weeks ago, I couldn't ignore it for another day. I told those four little girls that enough was enough and that they couldn't treat M like that. He just wanted to play together. The oldest girl's father, who lives down the street, was right there. Why didn't he ever say something? It's one thing to not be a helicopter parent, but it's another thing to let your child become the ringleader of a gang whose sole purpose is to mistreat a neighbor for months.
Anyway, even though I hate confrontation (yes, it counts as confrontation even when they are 8) I don't regret what I did for M. We're already starting to see some change- today when we walked to the fishpond, two of those little girls were kind to our boys. And that same father jumped right on his girl when she tried to pull some of her tricks.
As a kid, I never wanted an adult to get involved because then it felt like it "didn't count". If the teacher would have come over and scolded everyone and told them they had to play with me, I wouldn't get any enjoyment from the game. I'd know they were only playing with me because they had to, and I would have rather played alone. But M isn't me, and he doesn't overthink things the way I did. For him, this solution actually works. He does just want to play. And the best part is, now that they're not ganging up against him, they're all going to be charmed by him in no time flat.