In so many ways I am incredibly similar to my daughter. I understand her emotional responses to things, I understand her need for physical affection, and I understand what things upset her or make her angry. Her reactions to things rarely surprise me because they make sense to me. Two peas in a pod. Apart from one thing that I really struggle with.
Miss Rose is an incredibly social creature. She longs for company, for friends. She wants to go to all the birthday parties, she wants to go to sleepovers. She would totally adore being one of the “popular kids” but, unfortunately for her, she’s as much of a nerd as I always was she that’s unlikely to happen for her.
She’s been struggling with school fear recently. Crying on drop off quite often, begging me not to take her before we even leave. Whilst I was cooking her lunch today she started. She cried and cried and cried. She curled up in a ball on the floor and sobbed.
When I finally got her to calm down and talk to me she sobbed that “nobody plays with me.”
Now, I had a lot of guilt for that. I’d been working most of the morning. She’d played with blocks, toy animals, and on the Ipad whilst I worked on my laptop, then in the bath had a marvellous time pouring conditioner all over her My Little Pony toys to give them the salon experience whilst I put laundry away. Her grandpa came to visit and she played blocks with him whilst I fed the baby, then she asked me to do some more playing with her and I’d had to cook dinner. She gets left alone to play a lot. A lot a lot. I’m either doing housework, feeding the baby, or working on my computer a lot of the time and, to her credit, she’s really good at playing with stuff on her own as long as I’m still interacting with her whilst she plays.
I said to her I knew I’d been working a lot and I’m sorry, but I promised I’d play with her after school but she had to have her lunch now.
“But nobody plays with me at school EITHER!” she howled.
“I’m sure they do, sweety!” I said anxiously.
“No they don’t! NOBODY LIKES ME!”
She was broken. Completely in pieces. Her little face crumpled up and red, tears breaking from her huge grey eyes and splashing down her t-shirt.
The thing is, I know that’s not true. I’ve heard little voices pipe up “Hi Rose!” when we are waiting to go in. I’ve seen her racing up and down the ramp with energetic class mates with delight. She’s been given birthday party invitations. She’s not disliked. Quite the opposite, she’s liked! She’s a bloody lovely kid too so I get it.
But she is desperate for love. Desperate for friendship. So much so that she will give you anything you want, do anything for you, if you’re nice to her.
It’s not that she isn’t like or that nobody plays with her, it’s that not every body wants to play with her all the time. Some kids are mean, and I know that. She’s come home with wounds because kids have kicked her or pinched her or pushed her over. She’s come home crying because people have been cruel. But she also finds it incredibly painful just to be told someone doesn’t want to play with her right now. They’ve not been cruel or violent, they just don’t want to include her at that moment.
She has been rejected.
Because she will open her arms to anybody who is willing to play with her, will accept anybody being nice even if they’ve only moments before been cruel, when the same isn’t offered to her it confuses her. It hurts her.
I’m a total loner by nature. I remember a girl in my class in school in reception year, so I would have been just one year older than Rose, threatening me with “Well you’re not invited to my birthday party anymore!” over some dispute to do with a doll’s house.
I remember the feeling in my head so clearly. “Phew! Why would I want to go to your birthday party?”
But I knew the appropriate reaction. It was a popular threat and reduced many a child to tears. So I said whined a bit and said I was sorry. But I didn’t care. I was actually relieved. I don’t remember if I ever went to Joanne’s birthday party or not, but that vivid memory of relief that I wouldn’t be invited is there.
Rose? Rose’s sobs would have been real.
I can’t force the other kids to always include her, embrace her welcome her into their games and activities. I can’t change who she is.
What I can do is teach her that it’s okay to not always be included and it doesn’t reflect negatively on who she is as a person, and just be a constant reminder that she is good and lovely and has done nothing wrong. I can also work tirelessly on reminding her that if someone is cruel to you then you do not have to welcome them back into your life because they’ve suddenly been nice. That being treated badly is an actual bad thing, and seeking the approval and acceptance of the bully by doing anything they want if they are nice to you is not healthy.
And I can keep reassuring her that people do like her. People do want to play with her. When I don’t it’s not because I don’t love her or like her or enjoy her, it’s because some days I’ve got other stuff that I have to do. When other people don’t want to play with her it’s not because she’s a bad person it’s just because not everybody wants her time constantly. And that’s okay.
When I picked her up from school she was chipper. She’d been pinched in the neck by a boy in class and was highly aggrieved by the situation, but was cheerfully recounting it between playing car games with me as we drove. When we came home she had snacks and we made a birthday card for her teacher which involved a lot of glitter glue and chaos.
She was fine. She’ll be fine. I just need to learn to understand just how desperately she desires social interaction and try to teach her to manage that desire. And she needs to learn that she is valuable and lovable for herself, and not seek that affirmation from others because not everybody will give it to her on demand.
What do you think? Do you have any thoughts or ideas about how to deal with it? I’d love to hear from you! You can find links to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, as well as links to my novels, my podcasts and our Patreon page.