Motherhood

Lets be Includers

We’ve all heard it: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Well….William Congreve likely didn’t have kids when he wrote that because a woman has got nothing on a Mother. You want to talk about fury….I double dog dare your kid to push my kid at the playground.

Be an Includer

I have dealt with anger issues for most of my life….I just didn’t know it until I met my now husband. Long story short….I was angry. I was angry at my past. My parents. My siblings. The town I grew up in. The kids I grew up next to. Myself. The world. God. After years of therapy….forgiveness….growth and love….anger was no longer something that held me captive. Sometimes I still feel angry of course but I am able to easily combat that anger with joy. Peace. Love. Hope. I am happy. For all the right reasons. I know how good I’ve got it and I really do….I’ve got it good. You would have a hard time making me angry….or offending me because there is little that can bring me down without some serious self reflection, understanding and empathy. That is….until a week ago. When someone was mean to my kid. I’m not talking like didn’t share their toys mean. Lucy got mean girl…ed.

Let me start off by saying that I know my Lucy is not perfect. She is a wild little lady with all sorts of opinions. Every day…every transgression is a teaching moment….we teach kindness….we teach gentle hands….we teach inclusion….compassion….love….forgiveness…acceptance. I work hard at all of this every day. There are days that get the best of me….and unfortunately…..there are days that get the worst of me. I’m not perfect. I have bad days…..just like my almost 3 year old. BUT I assure you….my Lucy is also kind….and funny….and playful….and social. She….in its purest form….is a child. An innocent child. A child that I will fiercely protect for as long as I live.

You may see where this is going. Last week, I dropped Lucy off at “Kids Camp” at the gym where her and her brother spend an hour or two twice a week while I work off this mom bod. She ran in with excitement….hugging her teachers….her girlfriends and promising to take care of her little brother. There is nothing quite as wonderful as finding somewhere your kids feel safe, loved and heard at while you can work on a little #selflove. Am I right? I returned to her classroom an hour or so later to find Eli eating (per usual) and Lucy….in the corner of the room….playing by herself while her girlfriends (girlfriends we know well….friends, neighbors, etc.) were playing on the other side of the room….laughing, dancing, pretending. My heart fell to my stomach. This is so unlike Lucy. We saw each other and she ran to me with excitement….not a care in the world. She asked how my class went and if I had taken a shower (she doesn’t like sweaty mom) and I asked her how “Kids Camp” was. She said it was “wonderful” (her words not mine) and that Eli had a hard time going to sleep but that pita bread made him happy. As we packed up her snacks, I asked her why she was playing by herself when I got there to which she replied “oh, my friends wouldn’t let me play with them. They called me a baby. Then they told me to go away.” She didn’t even blink an eye. She was fine. I however felt rage. Hot blooded rage. Rage traveled through my veins and I could feel my face turn red. “You’re a baby?” I asked. “Who said that?”

So, Lucy is almost 3. She will be 3 on May 11th and she talks….A LOT. She uses words that I didn’t use until I was in my late 20’s….trying to impress a guy I met at a bar with a masters degree. Lucy has expressed frustration when kids her age aren’t able to communicate with her or talk with her as much as she might like so she sometimes gravitates towards kids who are a year or 2 older. The friends at Kids Camp fall into this example. They are 4 and almost 5. These kids join us quite often for neighborhood activities and events and are generally good kids. Sweet kids. So, I was surprised. Then, one of the girls ran over to us and said “It was me that called her a baby. She is a baby and we didn’t want to play with her.”

I mean…..she’s not wrong. I get it. Lucy isn’t even 3. She is a baby. MY BABY {insert Godzilla mom stomping buildings and eating small children}.

My heart was broken. Does mean girling really start this soon? I had NO IDEA what to do or how to handle this or what to say to Lucy. I was speechless…..and heartbroken. As we walked to our car, I asked Lucy about her day. She told me that she had a great day. She played and colored and tried to play house. Tried? “What do you mean you tried?” Well, {X} & {X} were playing house and I wanted to play too but {X} wouldn’t let me….so I played by myself.” My response? Nada. I had nothing. I was so sad. I think (know) I was hurting more than she was. I know it’s real. I know the mean girl factor is out there. I know it exists. I was bullied. I was bullied HARD. Elementary school. Middle School. High School. I was bullied and I was excluded. Excluded because of my parents. My siblings. My behavior. It was awful. Now…..I am not necessarily blaming anyone else. My behavior wasn’t great. I pushed boundaries. I was rebellious but as a parent today, I want/need to remember that even the most rebellious kids want nothing more than to be included. To be loved.

Anyway, what was/am I to do with this situation? I had no idea. My first thought was Google but that was overwhelming. So, I pinterested (is that a word?) “Toddler Bullying” and WOW….this is a thing you guys. A lot of more graceful and eloquent parents prefer to call it “peer rejection” since toddlers rarely know what they’re doing….they’re not bullies….or so they tell me. My first introduction to the topic was by Pennies & Playdough and I immediately felt ashamed. This woman showed so much grace….and love….and empathy in how she navigated her experience…..while I was over here googling how to give a 5 year old diarrhea. I immediately felt like a failure and while I loved what Crystal had to say about teaching our children about inclusion and empathy….I did not relate to her approach. Like at all. She didn’t even consider arson? I mean…..who is she? Jesus?

I also came across Playground Parkbench and I LOVED what she had to say…it made me feel capable….equipped….like I could handle this without going to jail:

“One of the best pieces of advice I received came from Terri, a retired elementary school principal who now blogs at Our Good Life.

Her comfort level was with the other kids in her class. She doesn’t understand exclusion and its effect on others. In this case, it is acceptable to show the mean girl how the excluded child could fit in. For example, mom walks with child over to the group and says, look! My child is wearing the same shoes as you, or both of you have barrettes today, or, I am friends with your mom! This gives the mean girl a way to fit the other girl into her set.”

The 4 year old girl isn’t in fact a ‘mean girl’, her social development is just at a point where she isn’t yet comfortable including children she isn’t familiar with in her social circle.  By pointing out shared commonalities, it helps young children find common ground which gives them comfort and helps them build friendships.”

Okay….so what you’re saying is that maybe this 5 year old isn’t Satan after all?

I also reached out to my tribe. This is a group of woman from all walks of life….teachers, Grandmas, wives, professionals, mothers, sisters and most importantly….people who dearly love my family. Their advice? Talk to Lucy. Talk to her about what happened. How it made her feel. Validate her feelings and then turn it into a teaching moment about why and how we love our peers. I know this sounds so simple. It is simple but in the moment I saw red. Then I felt ashamed and ill equipped to handle the situation. You know those moments in parenthood where you hit a wall and think….”I didn’t see that coming!”? This was one of those moments for me. What happened to that peaceful parent I had worked so hard to become? She was gone in a matter of seconds and replaced by a psychotic bully that wanted to fight a 5 year old.

So, how do we teach our children inclusion?

Well, I came across an article on PBS about Relational Aggression as a form of bullying and this is where I really felt empowered to use this incident as a powerful teaching moment and lifestyle choice. I am excited to intentionally roll out these tactics in our every day life and for my children to reap the benefits of being “includers”.

“The best thing parents can do is to empower kids to act as “includers.” When we instill kids with prosocial skills, we spread kindness and compassion. Follow these steps to teach your kids to include others.

  1. Listen and empathize. It can be very difficult to sit back and listen when a child tells a story of being excluded, humiliated or otherwise hurt at school, but listening and empathizing are the two best things you can do. While it might be tempting to respond, “What a terrible friend!” what your child actually needs to hear is, “That sounds terrible. You must feel so upset right now.” When we empathize with our kids, we teach them to do the same for others. Empathetic kids can create giant ripples of kindness in this world. All we have to do is be there for them and let them work through their emotions.
  2. Be an “includer.” Ever stare at your phone to avoid social interaction when you’re just not up for it or you don’t know anyone in the room? You’re not alone. Technology makes it easy to avoid uncomfortable situations, but using technology to avoid social interactions sends mixed messages to our kids. If we want our kids to learn to reach out to others and include new people (or people they wouldn’t otherwise sit with), we need to do the same. Show your kids how to make new friends by introducing yourself to new people and striking up conversations with people they don’t know.
  3. Look for someone who needs a friend. It’s normal for kids to get caught up in their usual groups. Young children like routine and tend to sit at the same table at lunch or play with the same groups at recess, but this can be limiting. Teach your child to scan the room (or field) to look for someone who might need a friend. Practice ways to invite a new kid into the group or ask others to join a game. When kids practice these skills at home, they are better able to use them out in the world.
  4. Talk about unintentional exclusion. Sometimes kids exclude others without intent to harm. In the case of my client above, she didn’t invite that other girl to the weekend outing because it involved roller coasters and she knew the girl didn’t like roller coasters. She meant to protect her friend, but in planning a secret outing with others she actually caused more harm than good. Talk to your kids about what it means to exclude and how they can include others. Ask your kids to draw connections between being excluded and possible negative emotions and between being included and possible positive emotions.Open and honest communication helps kids work through feelings and emotions. It also increases empathy and compassion. Host a weekly family meeting to talk about the good, the bad and the in-between. In helping our children process emotions, we show them that kindness really does count.”

I am going to work hard to instill this kind of behavior in our home so that I can raise kind humans who will love and include your kind humans. Join me! Seriously though…don’t raise assholes….the world has enough of those.

With love,

Emily

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