November 18, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
Recently Eight has had a little bit of trouble with a friend she’s known since kindergarten. This young girl and Eight were good friends through kindergarten and first grade, but last year when they were in second grade things changed a little. The friend started to get “sassy,” to use Eight’s word, and she’s oscillated between friendliness and keeping Eight at arm’s length with snarky comments and just flat out ignoring Eight.
The topic has come up in parent-teacher conferences once or twice, and Eight’s teacher has reassured me she’ll keep an eye on the situation. Apparently Eight has had a conference of her own with her teacher and this classmate. They’ve talked about the way the classmate behaves and how things can be handled better.
For the most part, Eight is a happy-go-lucky kid. But when it comes to the people she cares about deeply, she feels their slights and their praise just as deeply. We’ve had to talk several times about how she shouldn’t take it seriously when we joke around with her, that jokes are just that and nothing more. When I tell her she’s done a good job, she lights up with warmth that glows from her heart outward.
Eight cares about this friend a great deal. I’ve volunteered in her class and personally seen Eight encourage the friend in reading group, several times. I’ve watched the girls sling their arms around one another’s shoulders and laugh together.
I’ve also heard about the times when the friend has made those comments, the ones that in a few years might earmark her as a mean girl. Eight comes home distressed, and I’m not sure what I can do other than offer her a huge hug and several kisses. I also give her as much verbal encouragement as possible. But I’m a little helpless otherwise.
I do try to offer Eight a sense of balance, however. Sometimes her friend acts up, and sometimes she genuinely wants the chance to be with others.
On Monday Eight got in the car after school and said, “I felt left out today.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“S. didn’t play with me. She was leaving me out and playing with J. and M.”
“Did she say anything mean to you?”
“No,” Eight said, her reluctance evident. “She just didn’t talk to me.”
And right then I knew I would have to help Eight learn something new: the subtlety of letting a friend go for the short term.
“Well, sometimes friends want to spend times with other friends,” I said, keeping my voice even.
“But she was ignoring me.”
“As long as she wasn’t being mean to you, then it’s okay if she was playing with other kids.”
“But I don’t like it when she leaves me out.”
“It’s okay if friends take a little break from each other,” I said. “Why don’t you play with [your other friend]? Isn’t she your BFF?”
“So spend time with other friends.”
She stayed quiet after that, trying to understand what all this meant. I wished I could make it more clear, but as the kids get older they’ll have to start dealing more and more with these gaps between the defined lines of relationships they’ve always known. Friendships require trust and a lot of grace, and often both spring from those gaps.
Eight often sees her world as black and white, but she also has to learn about the gray areas. Even if she doesn’t choose to live in the gray areas, she interacts with others who do. And she has to learn how to extend grace to them—and herself—when situations get complicated.
I love how much this child cares for others. At some point, though, she’s going to have to learn how to build a glass case around her heart. Not so that she won’t share it with others, but so she can protect it when the situation demands. I want her to continue caring for others while also caring about herself. I also want her to learn about grace and trust. And that good friends are always worth waiting for.