On a recent evening, my three year old decided for the first time ever that he would like to go chat with a few of the neighborhood kids we know. We were on a little walk and he spotted the kids grouped and playing. We said hello from afar as usual when he turned to me and said, “Hold on mama, I want to play, I’ll be right back.” With that he dashed over to the girls, giant stuffed Pooh bear in hand.
As soon as he got to where the girls were playing I watched with frustration as one particularly spirited six-year-old put her hands on her hips and screamed, “You can’t play with us!“
I immediately began speed walking towards those damn kids. Luckily, I was far enough away that I was able to take a few breaths, but I was mad. As I walked I witnessed another, kinder little girl speak to my son and hand him a toy. From his body language I surmised that he felt included enough.
“You having fun babe?” I asked my son when I reached him.
“Yeah!” He cheerfully replied, seemingly none the wiser.
“Good!” I said, and then I looked straight at the six-year-old with as neutral an expression as I could muster. She stared back at me in defiance, or curiosity, but when I raised my eyebrows pointedly she took a quick little breath and looked away.
My kiddo soon grew bored and asked that we move on. It was about dinner time anyway. We headed home where I took the time to reflect on my behavior.
Did I just silently mad dog a little kid?
No! I assured myself. I looked at her body language to assess whether she felt any remorse for being a jerk.
But what was with the eyebrow raise?
Well her reaction clearly indicated that she felt guilty.
Or did the weird adult neighbor lady staring at her scare her?
Ok yes, six-year-olds are supposed to be socially aware enough to know what actions may hurt someone else’s feelings, but thirty-five-year-olds are D E F I N I T E L Y supposed to be socially aware enough to know what might scare the crap out of a small child and they should hopefully have the ability to control their emotional reaction to a child’s bad behavior. What’s more is that, had I been close enough to the action, I likely would have said something in real-time, and I may have robbed my child of some crucial socialization.
This neighbor child may have been having a bad day, or she could be grappling with issues in her home life or at school that she isn’t yet able to process, or she maybe just wanted to feel a sense of control. Whatever it was that made her scream at a 3 year-old had nothing to do with my son. That is the lesson here. Mean people exist, a sad fact of life. Selfish people, harsh people, entitled people exist. In fact, we have tons of those kinds of people. How sad for them. Their behavior has nothing to do with my worthiness, nor my son’s. And I certainly don’t want my fear that someone will be mean to him or might exclude him from play to translate to how he feels about the situation.
“Hey bubba, is [six-year-old] nice or not too nice?” I asked him.
He thought for a moment and then said, “Not too nice.”
Ok, some acknowledgement. I continued, “Is [other girl who gave him a toy] nice or not too nice?”
Quickly, he said, “Nice.”
“OK,” I said. “Did you have fun playing?” I asked, afraid of the answer.
“Yeah!” He responded, in his usual cheerful way.
I smiled. “Awesome boo!” I said. “If someone is not too nice, you can always ask them to be nicer. You can say, ‘please speak nicely.’
“Please speak nicely,” he parroted.
“Yep. Good job, boo. And if they’re still not nice, you don’t have to pay with them!”
“I don’t!” He said. I smiled again.
“That’s right, babe.”
My fear is not his fear. Lesson learned. Going forward, instead of helicoptering, I’ll keep a watchful eye, an open dialogue, and a safe space at home. And, hopefully, he will always always always keep that cheerful demeanor of his, to help him through interactions with the not nice people of the world.