Volunteering in Laylee’s kindergarten class yesterday, I found myself listening to the little six-year-olds look for playmates as they headed out to recess.
One little girl caught my attention. The girl went from person to person, asking if she could play with them at recess. One by one they turned her down, a couple of them quite harshly.
“No. You’re not part of our group anymore.”
“I’m already playing with Amber. We don’t want you.”
“No. I don’t want to play with YOU.”
It hurt to watch them turn her down so callously. Somehow I thought this sort of thing didn’t start until at least 5th grade, maybe junior high. Actually, hopefully never. But I’m realistic and I know how catty girls can be. I know it happens. I was just hoping for a bit of a slow decline into the twisted world of mean girls, queen bees and snotty brats. These girls seem too young.
On the ride home from school, I brought it up to Laylee. I told her what I’d seen and that I was proud that I didn’t see her treating anyone that way. I won’t say I’m 100% sure she’s never treated another girl that way, but I was holding onto the knowledge that I’d never seen that behavior from her.
She seemed genuinely sad to hear what had happened and asked which girl was excluded so she could reach out to her the next day and play with her. I decided not to tell her which girl it was. Tact not being one of Laylee’s cultivated skills, I didn’t trust her not to say something along the lines of, “My mom says no one wants to play with you so I will because I want to be kind.”
I told her that if she was always kind to the other girls and looked out for people being excluded, then she would end up helping this girl.
She then came up with a plan. She asked me if we could invite the mean girls over to our house for a class and teach them to be kind. She said we could tell them how it feels when people are mean to you and then they’d change and start treating everybody nicely.
I told her it was a good idea but not something I felt I could do. Can you imagine that phone conversation? “Mrs. Folk? This is Laylee’s mom calling. We were hoping that Gwen could come over to our house this afternoon for a little class on how not to be such a heartless little punk who shuns other kids to make herself feel powerful. It starts at 3 and shouldn’t go for more than four hours. We’d be delighted if she could make it. All the mean girls will be there.”
No. I told Laylee that it was up to their parents to teach them to be nice and that we could teach by example. So she asked me if I could call each of their parents and tell them how they could teach their daughters to be nice.
No. I told her that just wasn’t the way things worked. It’s my job to be her mommy but I’m not in charge of telling the other mommies how to do their jobs. This was really upsetting to Laylee.
She loves to hear stories from my childhood, especially when they involve me making a mistake, so I let fly with a doozie about the year in elementary school when I became friends with a group of mean girls. I told her about how they shunned other nice girls and called them names. I asked her what she thought I did when I saw this happen. She said, “You stood up for the other nice girl and told them not to treat her like that.”
“Nope,” I said. Laylee’s face fell. I told her about standing silently while they made other girls cry and how I convinced myself that I wasn’t to blame because I wasn’t the one actually BEING mean. I told her how I was wrong, that I was just as guilty as the other little brats because I did nothing. I told her how I got to go to some great parties that year and that it was fun to be part of a group that everyone wanted to play with but few were accepted into.
Her eyes were as big as saucers, horrified and intrigued that her mother could do such a thing. I told her how it never felt right inside but how I didn’t have the courage to stop it because I wanted to fit in. Then I told her how the next school year my little group of “friends” decided I was stupid, ugly and lame, kicked me out of their group, and made my life miserable for a year, a year in which I had no friends.
“Do you want to learn a lesson like mine by hurting other people’s feelings and then having yours hurt in the end, or do you want to learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make them?”
“Learn from yours,” she said seriously.
“Then just be nice,” I told her. “Just treat everyone the way you’d want to be treated.”
I think it sunk in. I hope it did. Life’s too short to be a 6-year-old wench.