My 5-year-old left her gym class with tears in her eyes. “I cried two times today,” she said. When I asked her why, she said it was because her friends decided they did not want to be her friends anymore. One of them started calling her names and singing mean songs about her. Even though she told the person the song wasn’t nice and asked her to stop, that person kept singing it.
“At first I tried to ignore her. But she kept singing it over and over until I couldn’t take it anymore. I got so angry. So I cried,” my little one elaborated.
I did my best to comfort her. Little ones changing their minds about who they want to be friends with is common. One day you are BFFs, the next, they turn their backs on you. And a few days later, you are BFFs again. And the cycle repeats itself ever so often.
Sometimes it happens more often with certain people who use their friendship as emotional blackmail. It happens to adults too. I reminded her to not do that to any of her friends because they would be hurt, as she was hurt now.
I asked if she had done anything that might have hurt her friends, like laughed at them when they made a mistake, or speak rudely to them.
“No, mom. Today is lesson three and they just suddenly say they don’t want to be my friends. But in lesson one and lesson two, they were my friends. I don’t know why,” she replied.
To divert her attention, I asked her what she had done at gym class that day and she said she got to lead in the warm up exercise. Lead? She was only recently promoted to the higher level class. Yet her instructor had asked her to lead the entire class at the start of her third session when there were others who had been there for at least three months or more?
Hmmm… A different reason for her friends turning on her began to surface.
Jealousy At Play?
I might have over-read the situation. Maybe it’s just childishness, but I felt the urge to say something about it to my girl.
So I explained that there was a possibility that her friends who turned their backs on her might have been jealous that she was selected to lead the class. That sometimes, people do not like to be friends with people who are better than them because it makes them feel inferior.
“But why?” asked my little one. She continued, “We can learn from 3 different kinds of people. We can learn from our teachers. We can learn from our parents. And we can learn from our friends. If I am good, and they are my friends, they will become good too,” she reasoned.
“Indeed we can,” I assured her. “I love hanging out with people smarter and more capable than I am,” I told her.
“Me too!” she replied.
To Be Or Not To Be?
I brought her back to the predicament that she was in. I told her I was not sure if jealousy was why her friends decided not to be her friends anymore. But what would she do if indeed her friends rejected her because they were jealous of her being more capable? Would she purposely make more mistakes so she appeared less capable? Would she become weaker so they would be her friends again?
“Would you stop being your awesome self to keep your friends?” I asked. She looked confused.
So I asked her instead, “Do you want to be loved for who you are?” She nodded.
“Great! Then continue being your awesome self. And you will find friends who like the awesome you, who love you for who you are, and who will feel proud to see you do well. As for people who stop being your friends because you are stronger than them, it is their loss that they decide to stop being friends with you.”
My little one’s eyes lit up. “That makes a lot of sense, mom. Thanks!” And she gave me a hug.
Why Did I Do This?
Some people may say I over-interpreted the situation with her gym mates. Maybe I did. Maybe it’s just childish frivolity and there’s no jealousy whatsoever.
Regardless, I saw this gym event as a good teaching opportunity for my little one (and her older siblings when I shared the conversation with them).
I feel our children need to have the inner fortitude to learn they do not need to “dumb down” to earn the love of anyone. I want my children to know that they are awesome and feel confident about themselves. I want them to find friends who love them for who they are.
No, I am not asking my little one to be careless about keeping friends. Of course if now she had lost friends because she was mean or hurtful, the lesson would have been totally different. It would have been about her being kinder, gentler and more loving because we can always be better versions of ourselves even though our family may continue loving us with our warts and all.
But if she is being rejected for her strengths, I would ask her to be bold in shining and continue being who she is. I want her to learn that if she is shunned for her strengths, it is not her loss but the loss of those who shunned her. I want her to know she will find people who will love her strengths and flock to her. Because, indeed, birds of a feather flock together. I would much prefer she “flocks” with those who are open to learning,
Why? Because this is not simply about her being authentic and true to herself. The more important lesson here lies in the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you. AND do not do unto others as you would not want others to do unto you.”
In other words, I want her to also learn not to feel jealous or bitter about those who are stronger and better than she, but to be inspired, to want to learn, and to befriend such people.
For that, to me, is a growth mindset. And that is the key to success.