Caroline, in third grade, is having playground problems.
She's hit that age, I think, where friendships start to become more complicated. Those innocent days of everyone being happy to play with everyone else (ah, for the preschool play-yard...) are gone, apparently. So, each day as Caroline as come home from school, I've heard about how one friend of hers, S., is trying to get Caroline NOT to play with another friend, C. And Caroline is torn between the two. Personal politics start young in a few of these kids. As I hear Caroline's stories and watch how her playdates go, I see that one girl, S., is a sophisticated and skillful manipulater. Yep, at age 9. She'll pick one "chosen" kid to play with on a given day, rejecting the other kids and making them feel miserable, and making that "chosen" kid feel special and wonderful...Until the next day, when the chosen one is rejected and someone new is favored. Caroline and her long-time buddy C are not sophisticated in this way, and they're left bewildered and confused, yet fascinated by S's power.
So we've been talking a lot about friendships. It's hard to figure out how to help Caroline steer through this...and of course it conjures up my own feelings about the 3rd grade playground and my own childhood friend and nemesis, Francine.
How to put the concepts of personal relationships at a 3rd grade level? Geez, I still struggle with these things myself sometimes. But here's what I've figured out to say so far:
1. A friend is someone who makes you feel good when you're with him or her. If that person does things or says things that make you feel bad, then maybe that person isn't a good friend for you.
2. A true friend will like you for being yourself.
3. A friend won't tell you not to tell your parents about stuff that you do together. (As you can imagine, I've emphasized this point.)
4. A friend is someone you can trust to keep your secrets and keep promises.
5. You can be a good friend to someone by behaving the way you'd want a friend to behave to you.
I sure do understand that attraction of the hard-to-please friend. It's a powerful feeling, to feel that you've won the attentions of someone whose attitude can be so variable. It took me well into my adulthood to really understand how destructive that push-pull thing can be. So it's hard to watch Caroline as she is drawn to S, and then hurt by her over and over again. But we'll keep talking, and I think she's coping well. She announced that she played jump rope with other girls at recess yesterday and really had fun.
Friends are so important. Talking with Caroline about these things makes me realize how much I've learned since 3rd grade, and how I have such wonderful friends. I'm grateful for them all.