My kid had a friend over the other day. Their dynamics are so interesting to me. They fight, a lot. But, they don’t want to stop playing together. When they argue, I offer them a break or to play again later. They both always say no and then look at me with confusion.
This day, they were on the front porch and wanted to hang the toy bats from the Halloween toy spider. This spider is still hanging on our porch as our Halloween decorations have yet to be taken into storage…
They were both frustrated that they couldn’t reach, so they took out a stool and started to hang them. The friend put the first one on, then took another bat and started to play near the couch alone in the corner. In the meantime, my kid took three more bats and hung them up. When her friend noticed, this friend got upset and claimed that it was not fair as my kid got to put up three and them only one. In response, my kid kept doing what she was doing. Her friend got pretty upset, not feeling heard, and told my kid that they weren’t going to come over anymore because she didn’t play fair.
So, I waited and listened. I try not to intervene in these disagreements anymore. I did in the beginning and soon realized it was a losing situation for me and them. They quickly used me as an outlet and started tattling frequently. Yet, I was only getting part of the story, so my power was overtaking their ability to resolve conflict on their own.
I then heard my kid say, “Well, that makes me feel sad.”
The friend said, “Well, it makes me sad that you don’t play fair and that you got to do three and I got to do one.”
They got stuck in this moment, and repeated themselves a couple of times, and it went silent. They were at an impasse, so I decided to see if I could help. I asked if everything was okay and if they needed anything. They both came in and the friend said that they were upset that my kid got to do three and they got to do one. I asked them what could they do to fix it or to feel better.
My kid said, “We can play something else.”
The friend said, “We can do a re-do.”
So I said, “So it looks like you have two options, you can re-do…”
“We can re-do it,” my kid yelled and they both took off to the porch before I could finish.
This was such an awesome moment as a parent. I got to witness my kid use her words to express feelings in response to conflict as I have tried to model for her in teaching empathy. She could have easily responded to her friend with a similar response of “Well, I don’t want to play with you either” or “you’re mean”, etc., getting into a not so uncommon narrative of who is more right. But instead, she said that it made her feel sad. I am replaying this moment over and over because it was so beautiful. And also because it was a reminder, a lesson for myself, in how to be.
After her friend left that day, I told her I wanted to talk about her and her friend, that I had two things that I wanted her to know. The first is that when her friends come over sharing is important, so only play with what you’re willing to share. That it’s okay if you don’t want to share something, you are not required to share anything. But it’s not nice to play with something you aren’t willing to share when a friend is over. Secondly, I told her that I have her back. That sometimes friends or people will say things that feel unfair and that it’s my job as a parent to help assess the fairness. If I think a friend is wrong or could be a friend differently, I will help them just like I help her. That I won’t assume she’s being unfair just because someone tells me so.
I then told her that I heard their disagreement on the porch and I was so proud of her and how she tried to solve the problem on her own and that she told her friend how she was feeling when she felt sad. That saying how she was feeling was a great way to work to fix things when you don’t agree.
She walked away with a little smirk, and I knew that my words felt like something to her.
Many moments are tough, many are pure delight, and many I’m just so proud.