My daughter came home from preschool yesterday upset because two of her friends were playing on the playground and they wouldn't let her play. Today she came home distressed because she was at the playground with another friends and a third little girl was trying to intrude on their play. I wasn't there but my husband tells me that our daughter got so upset he had to take her home.
"I was afraid she'd take <friend's name> away from me." she told me as we cuddled on the couch.
I get it. My head knows that kids this age don't play well in groups of more than two, that someone will always be the odd girl out. My head knows that my daughter has been both one of the two girls playing and the third girl trying to get in on the fun. My head knows that the third little girl today probably felt a whole lot like my daughter did yesterday. My head knows that there is a good chance that the kids will work all this out themselves, eventually. But oh, how my heart aches for my precious girl. I wish, so deeply, that I could protect her from this. Failing that, since I my head knows that I can't, I wish I had more wisdom to guide her through this.
The truth is, I wasn't very socially competent as a child. I wasn't picked on or bullied but I was ignored and excluded a lot of the time. I was too smart, too quiet, too bookish, and too well behaved. So I spent a lot of time feeling left out. It wasn't until college that I really felt I had true friends, friends I could count on and who really liked me, not just my ability to help them with homework. And I'm not asking for pity or sympathy, but I still feel the effects of being excluded today, when I'm all grown up and successful and competent. I still tend to be quiet and retiring; I don't push myself forward. I try not to intrude on conversations and I look for signs that what I have to say isn't wanted. I feel rejected and hurt pretty easily and have to spend time talking myself back into good common sense. Somewhere inside, that lonely eight year old girl still lives inside me. So I really, really wish there was a way to spare my daughter all this.
I cuddled my daughter this evening. I empathized and let her know that I cared. "It sounds like you felt jealous. I know that's hard." I said. "It's scary to feel like someone might take your friend away."
She snuggled into me and said "Why?"
"Why does it feel hard and scary when you think someone might take your friend away?" I clarified.
"Yes." she agreed.
"I don't know, baby." I told her. "That's just how we are."
I do know, sort of, but I'm not going to tackle psychology, biology, and evolution this evening when we're all tired. And in another sense, I don't know why all my experience and knowledge, all the love I have from my family and friends, all my faith in my identity as G-D's child, doesn't overcome those things. I don't know why it's still so very scary as an adult to think someone might take my friend away. So I just hugged her and was grateful for preschool attention spans that quickly moved on to other topics.
Then after she went to bed I went online and bought some books about friendship for preschoolers. I talked to my husband, although his memories are different and I'm not sure little boys do this stuff, or at least not in the same way or at the same age. If I don't have wisdom in this area, and I don't think I do, I can at least have knowledge. I can at least equip her with the understanding of how to be a good friend. That way, even when her friends wander off, I can hope they'll always wander back.