At the beginning of this school year, my six-year-old daughter came home from her first Friday of first grade with her lower lip trembling.
“Can I talk to you?” she whispered in my ear after her sister got out of the car. We sat down on the porch, and my little girl said, in her tiniest voice, so that I had to lean in to hear her: “Someone was mean to me today.”
My stomach flipped. I wasn’t prepared to have the “mean girl” conversation. She is only six, after all.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I was in the bathroom,” whispered, “and Lydia told me to get out. When I was leaving, I heard her say to another girl, ‘I really hate her. I just pretend to like her.’”
My daughter has always been shy, and she has a hard time making friends. Lydia was one of only two “friends” she had made in her class. So I imagine it was a crushing blow to hear one of the girls she idolized say those words.
I looked at my daughter’s tiny face, her eyes welling up behind her glasses. There is nothing so heartbreaking as seeing a child take their little pink glasses off to wipe tears from their eyes. I reached out and held her. She broke into loud sobs. She let out all the hurt she had been holding in. I thought of her walking back to her desk from the bathroom, feeling totally alone, trying not to cry, and having no one to talk to until the long hours passed and she could go home. My heart broke in half for her.
I wanted to call the school. I wanted to call Lydia’s mom. I wanted to do something… anything. Instead, I told her all the things you say in these kinds of situations:
“Kids say things they don’t mean all the time.”
“That’s mean girl behavior. You don’t want to be friends with mean girls.”
“You’re beautiful, smart and funny, and if she doesn’t see that, it’s her loss.”
“You have so many people who love you.”
“You’re perfect just the way you are.”
Still, none of the things moms say can really make up for things other kids say. I know that part of growing up is learning how to deal with hurt and sadness and really big feelings, and all the social intricacies of situations that happen at school. As a mom, though, the helpless feeling I had sitting on the porch that afternoon with my heartbroken little girl was worse than anything.
I’m writing this to all the military parents whose kids have to move schools frequently, who have to help their kids make new friends over and over, who have to help their kids deal with being left out, being made fun of, being shy, or being lonely. There aren’t really one-size-fits-all answers or advice on how to deal with these situations, but it helps to know you aren’t alone.
It also might help to know this: Yesterday, when I picked my daughter up from after-school, I saw her playing with a little girl I didn’t recognize. Both of them were laughing, taking turns flopping onto a gymnastics mat. They looked happy. When my daughter came outside I asked her:
“Who was that girl you were playing with?”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s Lydia.”
“That doesn’t look like someone who was just pretending to be friends with you,” I said. “That looked like someone who is friends with you.”
My daughter just shrugged.
Sometimes, the things our kids go through end up hurting us more than they hurt our kids. Kids – especially young kids — have a way of working things out between themselves, and, what we think is the worst thing in the world can turn out alright.
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