I hate how sometimes negative experiences have to happen for teachable moments to occur.
My four-year-old daughter, Ny, is starting to explore friendships and playing with other girls, some older and some her age. She’s already mastered playing with younger girls through her two-year-old sister, and let me say how blessed I feel to have given her a sister and, hopefully, friend for life.
The other day, Ny and her sister were playing on the sidelines of their brothers’ soccer practice when two girls, about her age, came along with dolls and a tupperware “to catch ladybugs.” I could tell my daughter wanted to join them and I noticed that she played with her ball closer and closer until she was standing right next to them as they crouched in the grass hunting bugs. I was proud of her for making some moves and turned my attention to my sons on the field.
Soon Ny returned with a sad face and whispered in my ear. The fact that she whispered told me right away that something had happened. She said, “Mama, one of those girls told me she hates when children stare at her. And the other girl told me she hates dumb children.”
And so it begins.
While I wanted to have a chat with those little girls as if they were my own, I probably wouldn’t have. Besides, I noticed they had moved much farther down the field away from us. Instead, I took a deep breath and looked my girl in the eyes. “Let’s talk about it a little later when we’re home. For now, enjoy playing with your sister and kicking the ball in the warm sunshine.”
I am very much a believer in addressing issues outside of the moment whenever possible.
Ny moved on but she never quite shook her long face. Later at home, the chaos of making dinner took over my brain, soon followed by the chaos of the bedtime routine and I never did make the time to talk. All evening, my daughter had not been very nice to her little sister. In fact, their interactions involved spitting and hitting with a stick…definitely not the usual around here. Could it have something to do with earlier? I’ll never know.
That night, I lay in bed getting my thoughts in order to bring up the following day and before I fell asleep, I wrote this:
Why does this have to be a rite of passage?
Where are their elders to guide them in kindness?
You will be in their position one day,
You will feel the need to say something.
Let it be kind.
Would you like to play with us?
You can play with us if you like.
What’s your name?
One kind word.
Can’t we just end mean?
I found my moment more than 24 hours later. Ny’s three siblings fell asleep before she did which left us alone to cuddle and whisper. I started talking to her about growing into a big girl and what that means. How sometimes I will talk to her about big girl things because I’m a big girl, too. “You can always talk to me about big girl things,” I told her.
She responded, “And boys can have long hair, too. Right, mama?”
Kid thoughts are so unpredictable. Maybe I was wasting my breath, but I pressed on.
I told her that as she keeps growing she will meet more girls in her life. Sometimes, some will say mean words. She should always know in her heart that those words don’t mean anything and she can move on and away.
Then I added, “Someday you might be playing with one other girl and you might be having a lot of fun together. Another girl might show up and even though she might want to play with you, she might feel scared or shy to ask.
“Your job is to say hi. That’s it, baby. Be friendly and say hi.”
She nodded her head and told me she loved me. Then she squeezed my hand, rolled over, and fell asleep.
Oh, those teachable moments. I wish it was possible for us parents to know if the way we handled things was right. What I do know and feel in my heart is this:
In our home, my kids will constantly be taught, shown, smothered, and homeschooled in kindness.
I know on the scale of worst-case scenarios, this was minor, but if mean-ish words can start this early, think of what they become years from now. This is why I take my role as a parent raising kind human beings so seriously. You bet I worry about bullying, and not just my kids being bullied either. Should any of my children be involved in another child’s hurt feelings, you can be rest assured that I will address it.
Have you had a teachable moment recently?