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When friends go bad, and other troubles of childhood

Everett came home from school yesterday wanting to quit kindergarten. In his folder, next to the little "SUPER!" sticker from Monday, was a note: "Everett had a really rough day today." The teacher wanted to talk with us about it, later. It seemed likely that she'd never dealt with a child as difficult as him.

It was almost 9 p.m. (after official bedtime) before I got Everett to explain to me exactly what had happened. The little boy who'd declared himself Everett's "buddy" on Monday had decided to bestow that honor on a different little boy. He'd gone on to change his mind several times that day. Everett, never great at dealing with emotional blows, had ended up in a full-on freak-out by the end of lunchtime, screaming and kicking and asking for everyone to leave him alone (exactly the thing he needed, I explained to his teacher today at drop-off: alone time to calm down).

This morning I scanned the room with narrowed eyes looking for the child who was torturing my baby. I found him, and saw immediately that he was a beautiful boy, tall, confident, and possessed with just the sort of power that will allow him to continue his emotional warfare well into adulthood. (I quake at the thought of girlfriends played against one another in college. Yes, I am that dramatic.) The "great idea" I'd given Everett the night before -- how 'bout all three of you be buddies together? -- was never communicated, despite Everett's hard work to get it across. ("I need to tell the two of you something!" he said three times, poking them gently in their chests to get their attention. "No!" C. kept saying happily while I ground my teeth in anger.)

I've done the obvious stuff: explaining to Everett that really good friends won't take away their friendship, and that he should try to spend time with other kids who obviously wanted to be his friend; reminding him about all the great friends who will always be his friend; telling him we love him. I can see that will be hard to negotiate in the face of C.'s charm. Geez, the Queen Bee stuff is starting already and he's only five (so much for that "boys are easier than girls" theory). Does anyone have any ideas? Or can you distract the teacher at recess so I can take C. behind the dumpsters and rough him up a bit? (Kidding! Kidding! Sort of...)


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umm, I think you roll with it. C. isn't probably gonna change and Everett sound like he's going to be drawn to other Everetts.

The hard lesson is that sometimes you're going to like folks better than they like you, for whatever reason. I would spend more energy on how he manages his feelings around that than the actual sitch which you have no control over.

I have a middle school girl and we've dealt with this since 1st grade. We talk about how it makes her feel and what consequences of losing her sh*t are, no matter how justified she may feel. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. It took me years to figure that my coping mechanism "well, just don't be friends with her" was not gonna work for my "soc" daughter.

Depending on the school environment, the freak-outs may end up labeling HIM, regardless of what caused it. Which couldhave residual effeacts around playdates, etc.

OH, life is tough! I feel emotional about this subject. George started Kindergarten this week too. I voluntereed at lunch time and I observed him. He is a very sociable kid, but he is not playing with other buddies yet. He just says I play with myself, and he seems happy however. I heard him speak to another kid "My cousin is coming from France to visit me, you know", repeating it 3 times and the other kid did not even look at him. I was there and I felt like saying "Eh, did you hear what he just said!!!". Of course, I did not, because I think that, unfortunately, our kids will have to go through this kind of social "apprentissage". But I think too that teachers are there to help them in this context and interfere - a little bit - in the friendship games.
Good luck to Everett!

In general, triads don't work well - that's why I often keep birthday parties/sleepovers at even numbers only.

It takes a lot of emotional sustenance for a child to feel good in a triad, especially a new one (do they like each other better? am i the odd man out? how can we all agree to play this or that?) My daughter's managed to put one together that works well, but the rest are constant power struggles and less than successful.

Social difficulty can be so heart wrenching to witness especially with your own child. In Montessori education, the children learn a lot about social interaction through Grace and Courtesy lessons. They cover everything from how to sit properly in a chair to how to ask another child if they want to play. My five year old son was having particular trouble inviting another child for lunch and often ate alone or with the teacher. We did some role playing on how he might ask one of his friends to join him and how to respond if they said no. He has since moved on to other social issues (not liking girls), but it was great for us as parents to have a way to help him problem solve. Good luck!

Wow, this sounds so familiar. We went through something similar in pre-K. My son had a good friend, S., who was also in his class. S. was almost a full year older than my son and started in on the manipulative behavior within a week of school starting. My son was dying to sit next to his buddy, S. would tell him no, or purposely sit at a table with no other empty seats. At recess, S. would tell my son he had to play according to S.'s directions or S. "wouldn't be his friend anymore."

Later in the school year, much the same situation occurred again with another older kid in the class who had C.'s charisma mixed with a tendency to be rude, physically rough, and equally manipulative.

My son is really social and very tender-hearted. S's refusal to sit with him reduced him to tears at the beginning of the year. Almost every day on the way home from school, we talked about what had happened that day, what the older boys had said, and how my son could respond. I gave him lines to use (if you're going to treat me like that, I don't want to be your friend anyway), and I encouraged him to play with the kids who treated him well. But it was a looooong year. The good news? He's in third grade now and doesn't seem to encounter these issues any more.

So I guess I'm saying, "hang in there!" because the kids will grow up. Everett will learn to cope a little more calmly, and C. will maybe grow out of his behavior, too. For right now, see if you can find another kid in his class who has similar interests (princess-rescuing?) and invite that child over for a play date. In fact, set up LOTS of play dates with many of his classmates. This will help him feel comfortable playing with the other kids and C.'s cold shoulder won't hurt quite so much.

Also, rehearse with Everett what his coping strategies should be. When X does Y, what should you do? Over and over and over again. For my son, that kind of discussion (every day on the way home from school) eventually paid off big time. We're using a similar approach now to help him not over-react at soccer when things don't go his way.

The one thing that I've found is that with kids his age (my eldest started kindergarten this week) things can change in an instant. We had one playdate this summer with some kids from his new school, and he would not get off of my lap -- clung to me as though sharks were circling the playground. The next playdate, he made two friends and now he's just fine. It will get better.

And I get the whole emotion about taking a kid out back. I remember when I was pregnant, talking with someone whose daughter had just gotten pummeled at the playground. He said he wanted to "drop-kick the ..cking kid." I was shocked, totally shocked and so put-off. Now that I'm a parent, boy, does it make sense to me.

The only thing that concerned me was that the kindergarten teacher reacted so strongly. Melt-downs, social upheavals, etc., seem to come with the territory of being a kindergartener (and a kindergarten teacher). Has the teacher chilled out?

I taught kindergarten for four years and this type of thing happened constantly between peers. It was often most apparent at the beginning of the school year. As a educator, I spent a lot of time during the first month or so "role playing" with the children; I focused on how to communicate, bullying (which I implemented a no-tolerance policy), treating others with respect, compassionate, and warmth. I would pretend that I was a student of their age and use one-two other students to act out of typical "I'm your friend and not your friend" situation. This method was quite successful. I was also extrememly rigid when witnessing alienation, teasing, and rudeness in the classroom. Once cliques began to form, I would separate them almost immediately. I constantly mixed up the students during academic centers and circle time. Sure, some students had natural bonds with others but overall the class was a very whole unit. They considered themselves a "team" because that is how I addressed them throughout the year. Perhaps discuss with the teacher HOW she handles situations such as these; does she address social issues to the entire class or just with the individual involved? Does she spend time on character education and the appropriate/inappropriate ways to treat someone on your same "team"? An experienced teacher should not be alarmed at this behavior among her students.
Rest assured that these peer circumstances with Everett are normal; it truly comes with the terrority. Try to just roll with it in regards to him even though it is heart wrenching to witness. Best of luck.

thanks for all your helpful/supportive comments everyone! today was much better for Everett, according to his teacher and him. I'll admit I was a bundle of nerves all day. I've been thinking I might try and volunteer one day early next month so I can observe how the teacher handles the class -- your advice is great, Tiffany -- naturally bringing along a glove for when I bite my knuckles to keep from interfering in Everett's social interactions... *sigh*

I think the advice about teaching him coping techniques, and roll-playing, is great; I've already been talking to him almost daily about better ways of dealing with frustration other than the kick/scream tantrum, and I'll keep working on it. and good idea w/r/t playdates: there's another kid who's really struggling with kindergarten whose mom seems a kindred spirit (she had to literally drag him in the room today). maybe we can get together and fight the good fight!

Sorry to step in here with what I am about to say. I loved much of the information and advice that was given. I was impressed by how all the urban mamas focused on Everett's situation. I saw Sarah's response and Sarah I felt like you had really taken it to heart until your last line of "fight the good fight". This seems like a funny comment to me because the reality is that it's not your fight to fight and I wonder if some of your attitude is being observed by Everett which is adding to his inability to cope? Also, it feels like your comment of having the play date and teaming with the other mother/child and fighting the good fight is teaching that turn about is fair play. I might be misinterpreting and I apologize if this is the case but this is my perception.
Keep in mind that I have 2 girls; 1 of which has difficulty coping and would have thrown a tantrum similar to Everett and I have continued to focus on helping her cope better because the reality is that we will face all kinds of personalities throughout our lives and as parents we won't be there to help them fight, rather we need to provide them the tools and resources to create a path for happiness and confidence within themselves. The only thing that you can impact is Everett's abilities and how you come across to him might be the best learning tool for this.
Take care and good luck.

kristin commented that she was concerned about how the teacher reacted so strongly, and i'm curious about that. the teacher wanted to speak with a parent about her child having a meltdown that involved kicking out at everyone around him. wouldn't most parents want the teacher to talk with them if it was their child? just because the teacher asks to talk it through with the parents, doesn't mean the parents are in trouble or something.... a desire to communicate and figure out what's going on early on is not a bad thing is it?

if everett had never had this type of tantrum, went to school for the first time, and suddenly on day two this happened.... then i might think more about how the school environment and the teacher were doing everett wrong. but in this case it seems like everett is being himself, encountering and figuring out some challenges, and the school needs help understanding him - the school needs the parent to help understand the nuances about the child that the parent had to learn long ago. it seems like the teacher chose a good way to react strongly (requesting parent/teacher conferencing) than a bad way to react strongly (sending him home/punishing him/not talking about it).

it must be a stressful situation for the parent, and i empathize. but, i don't think because it's a tough situation that someone has to be a culprit: the other kid, everett, the teacher. it doesn't have to be a fault-based situation before it is problem solved, does it? it sounds like everyone has rallied around, which has helped smooth the path so everett can keep being a rad kindergardener.

oh the heartbreak of watching our little folks go through this! When my daughter started kindergarten we had a similar issue. Hazel idolized one girl who played with her one day and the next would have nothing to do with her. Both my husband and I felt like the other little girl was mean and couldn't help but want to fix it. I decided to go sit in the class for a day and realized that the other little girl was just going about her day, not trying to be mean. Why should she have to play only with Hazel, even though they said they were "best friends." Plus, I saw that there were kids thet Hazel was unknowing excluding. 2 years later the girls are still "best friends" even when they don't play together for days.

At the kindergarten level I don't think kids are usually mean intentionally, though feelings are often hurt. Everyone is learning.

It won't be long until Everett accidentally hurts someone else's feelings. I agree that there doesn't have to be a culprit or a victim. I think it makes things harder when you villianize the other kid at home. It makes them seem like a bad guy to rebel against. When I was young my mom would always empathize with me but also the other side as well(which made me nuts at the time.) But she would say "wow if they are that grouchy at school maybe they are having a really hard time) It did teach me to look beyond myself, even at a young age.

Give Everett the power of his own choice. He can choose where to be and who to be with. He can choose to be with friends that make him happy and not to dwell on the ones that don't.

Good luck!!

This has been touched on already but I think the most important thing in this situation is to help build resiliency in yoru child. What would you really like out of this situtation? Probably for C to stop being a jerk to your kid! But that might happen and it might not.

We bumped into something similar with my son and what seemed important to do was to teach him to focus on what he can control and let go of what he can't. I work on this all the time for myself as well and it's never too early to practice living in the world this way. He can ruin his whole day by letting C's actions guide his emotions or he and can say "oh well" and move on.

Once we hit this place of dealing with this stuff it seemed much less scary and much more empowering to all of us. I don't want my son's emotions to be so fragile that others can weild their power around and hurt him. Yes, he'll get hurt...but hopefully not by the petty stuff that kids try to pull on each other.

My point about the kindergarten teacher came because Sarah suggested that she got a "hardest child ever" vibe from the teacher. Communication=good. Lots and lots of communication=better. Lots and lots of communication that does not bring unnecessary drama to the situation=best.

We are having a very similar Kindergarten experience. My daughter lotteried in to a school that we are so excited to be a part of, but this story has been going on for a month now, and has really taken the wind out of her sails. I do volunteer once a week and so I have seen the behavior.

My daughter, L played primarily with one little girl, but was friends with the whole class. This girl now seems set on pulling away any friends that L takes up with, on top of saying she doesn't feel like playing with her anymore. I have talked with the teacher, I have talked with the girl, I have tried setting up a playdate with this child, thinking maybe some one-on-one might help (after I got over wanting to smeer her face in the dirt). Her mom never got back to me about the playdate. My next step will be to schedule lots of playdates with other kids in the class?

I have talked to my daughter about being a good community member, but to also take good care of herself - not to focus on the people who make her unhappy, but to focus on the people who make her happy. But she is far too sentimental to take this speech to heart.

When I talked to this child, I asked if L had hurt her feelings somehow, and she looked me straight in the eye and said, "No, I just don't want her to play with my friends." My blood was racing as I reminded her about what the class had just learned about community, and that she was a smart girl and would surely make a good choice.

This, in kindergarten? Really? So, any advice on what to do next?

i went through something similar with my daughter in kindergarten, lea, and i'm sorry to hear you're going through it. we didn't love the school my daughter was in, though, so we changed schools after kinder, and it has been uphill ever since. my daughter is still friends with the girl who was shutting her out back then, and she's friends with other kids from that (neighborhood) school. they all grew up a little, and some distance from that year helped. we didn't change schools because of that situation, but it was a bonus to get away from that hurtful dynamic.

more than anything i understand how hard it is to be patient with the other child. i've never been so mad at a child before or since. my daughter was very forgiving, though, and that was something that amazed me and helped me grow some more patience.

maybe you could talk with the school counselor?

also, by "uphill ever since" i don't mean an uphill battle, but steadily increasing improvement in my child's happiness at school.

Thanks, anon! I am very concerned that an experience like this could shape her perception of school, or that she will be labeled somehow.

The school counselor! Yes! She is a very neutral party who may have some insight, and also the T.A.'s, who are out at recess - when most of the behavior takes place.

We are at Creative Science. Her teacher is amazing, the school is amazing, I see inclusivity everywhere else I look, except in this (very personal)situation.

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