Yesterday DD had a playdate. One of her favorite friends, C., came by with her mother and baby brother, and the idea was to go for a walk to a nearby playground. For the first few minutes, the girls walked together chatting happily, but then things started to go poorly.
DD is an amazing little girl and there are so many things about her personality that I enjoy. She excels in many areas, particularly academic subjects, and takes real, honest pleasure in learning about things. But there are things about her that I struggle with (and I know that my reaction to these are reflections of my own issues, but more on that in another post). Her weaknesses seem to lie in the social arena. I have said in the past that she struggles with social skills, but actually I don’t think that’s precisely it. She is confident and outgoing, has no trouble speaking with kids, asking to play, or suggesting ideas. Her problems appear to stem from certain other aspects of her personality: she is a bit of a control freak and she likes to run the show. I like to say she shows strong leadership qualities, but she needs to learn that a good leader takes into account the wishes and feelings of other members of the group.
Lately she’s been processing the concept of “being first”. She has to be first all the time, and will yell at anybody who says she isn’t. So yesterday when she and C. decided to run, DD decided she had to be in front and C. had to be in back. When C. said she didn’t want to be in back, DD broke down sobbing. She was upset and angry. She kept yelling that she had to be first and when I suggested that they run side-by-side DD started shoving C. behind her. NOT okay. I tried to talk to her a bit but she was too distressed to listen.
We then distracted them by starting a game of “treasure hunters”. DD loves to pick up “treasures” on our walks, little things that pique her interest, like the sparkle disc from a peice of clothing, or especially a bottle cap. This ties in with another aspect of DD’s personality: her possessiveness. She will get extraordinarily attached to small items of the day, whether it’s a discarded bead she found, a rock, or even once the dried up larvae of some insect. If she loses the item (while she is still concious of having it), she gets immensely distraught and grieves strongly. She also cannot stand other children even touching it. Thus, today whenever she found a treasure, she would not let C. touch it or look at it. At one point we were sitting at a table having hot chocolate, and C. went to grab an item DD had found to give it to her (it was out of DD’s reach) and DD started to freak out “No! It’s mine! You can’t have it!”.
At one point C. found a pile of pumpkin seed shells and picked out one that appealed to her. DD started yelling that it was disgusting and she should put it down. She went on and on about how gross it was and disgusting, which of course was upsetting to C. It was also upsetting to me. I was appalled at DD’s behaviour. I felt so bad for C., who had done nothing to provoke any of this and, like many other children, tried to comfort and soothe DD, even offering little concessions to make her feel better (which makes me feel even more bad).
I struggle with these types of outburst. I think I react so strongly to them because as a child my feelings were often hurt by others and it strikes too close to home to see my child being so hurtful to other children. I was angry, and told DD so. I spoke fairly harshly to her, rather than doing my usual focussing on what she is feeling to diffuse her emotions a bit before I can talk to her. I think I handled it okay, but I really didn’t like what I was feeling. I was embarrassed and ashamed of the way she was acting, and angry at her. The truth is, she was feeling strong emotions (and may have been exacerbated by tiredness or the fact that a bitterly chilly wind was blowing) and was out of control (a scary feeling for a young child) and I should have found some empathy for her, but instead I was just embarrassed and upset for C. and focussing on my own feelings.
Our last incident involved the feeling of “envy”. C found a lovely little blue flat marble that had chipped at one end. The chip edges had worn smooth, and it was a bright, deep blue colour on the inside. We all marvelled at it, except for DD who totally lost it, saying over and over again that she wanted to have found it, and that it wasn’t fair that C. got it, and she wanted it to be hers. She was yelling these things in anger. This was a little easier for me to deal with. We all experience envy, and I don’t except her to handle it in a noble way at her age. But her yelling was upsetting C. and that was not okay with me.
Back at home we snuggled while she cried over the things that had happened (still upset over not having the blue marble) until she relaxed and started a game of I Spy. After we’d played for a few minutes I began to talk to her in earnest. Much as we feel pressure to address situations when they happen, the fact is that children, like other animals, do not learn when in a state of stress. We ended up having a good talk, and I hope I got my point across that Life is so much fuller when we surround ourselves with people who love us, and that while Family will love you unconditionally, friends won’t stand for poor treatment. I explained that it was important to respect our friends and treat them kindly or they won’t want to be our friends anymore.
I think some of what I said sunk in, but it was also a lesson in how long it takes children to develop a true sense of empathy for others. At 4 years old, DD’s Universe revolves around her Self. This is natural and normal. Empathy takes a great deal of time and maturity to develop. I can see over the last couple of years that she has made leaps and bounds in this area, especially as concerns her brother, but she still has a ways to go. As an example, there is a boy in our circle of homelearning families who she doesn’t like because he hurt her feelings rather strongly one day (despite making up for it on another occasion). This boy’s mother told me that he worries about not being liked, and even mentioned that he thought DD didn’t like him (actually, I’m pretty sure DD told him that!). I told DD that I felt sad for the boy, because he didn’t understand why some kids didn’t like him. It was because he was hurtful to them alot, but didn’t seem to make the connection. DD readily understood what I was saying about the boy in terms of how his hurtfulness caused her to dislike being around him, but she was unable to extend this situation to her being hurtful to C or other kids. Frankly, I find it a fascinating glimpse into child development. The ability to apply one’s own experiences to others is still not there in her. Again it’s normal and natural, but it does create some difficulties.
I’m hoping that she just had a bad day. I suspect it may be lack of practice, as it’s been a while since we had any playdates. I’m hoping getting back into our regular routine of activities will help (they start next week). And I hope that I can set aside my own feelings regarding her behaviour, and just focus on her. My goal is to validate what she is feeling as I have all along, but be more firm about how those feelings are expressed, and insist more strongly on respectfulness in her words. DH agreed that this is the route to go, so we’ll see how things progress.