Wednesday, August 26, 2009

But it ain't all Kum-ba-yah either

I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that where there are two or more homeschoolers gathered together, there will be the Camp David peace accords.

Mostly, yes, it is all fun and games. Like yesterday. Our American Girl doll club met for a birthday party for all the dolls. We discussed historical birthday celebrations. We let the kids decorate cupcakes.
We provided them with tote bags and loads of decorative material to make presents for their dolls.

Even the brothers participated. Here's Ian, MANning the glue GUN:

The highlight, for me, was watching my shy middle child sitting with other girls and interacting, smiling, mostly thanks to the American Girl Trading Cards she and others brought along. I think having a structured springboard for interaction really helps her, versus entering a room of semi-chaotic play (the kids' equivalent of a (shudder) cocktail party).

And I totally get that impulse. Maybe that's why I actually managed to be a La Leche League leader for a few years, and did not too shabbily at it. Even led a bunch of meetings. Survived. Thrived. Made friends who brought my newborn baby milk when I was in the ICU for three days after her birth.

Following our return home, I noticed a Facebook discussion started by a local friend about the book You Can't Say You Can't Play, about a school community that decided to make it illegal for children to exclude one another from play. To say this is a subject that tugs the heartstrings might be kind of an understatement.

Raise your hand if you've ever a) been excluded from a group, intentionally or otherwise; b) been part of a group that excluded someone, intentionally or otherwise, and failed to notice that fact because you were just so content to be inside those cherished walls; or c) been part of a group, noticed someone being left out, and empathized enough with her dilemma to want to reach out?

OK, I'm now raising two hands plus one leg. Isn't it amazing how I can still type with the toes of my left foot?

The Facebook discussion, my daughter's morning experience, and her negative experience with not wanting to rejoin our homeschool co-op because she feels like there is a club that excludes her and those girls (generally children of a tight group of parents) ignore her, really have me thinking. My first impulse when my child, or any child, is feeling left out is to intervene and ask the excluders to take notice. I usually keep my trap shut and stew about it, but there's definitely some blaming going on. And I WILL intervene if my own children are doing the excluding.

On the other hand, though, I do believe it's doing children a disservice to try and make their world a place of sweetness and light, especially if that precludes helping them develop the muscles of resilience and persistence. It's that fine line we parents constantly walk between protection and sheltering, between coaching and hovering. We desperately want to provide them with a safe haven where they can retreat when the world seems too much with them, and on the other hand, we want to give them wings.

What do you all think about the excluding issue? Do you intervene when you see kids excluding or being excluded? Do parents and teachers bear a burden to help those on the inside become more aware and compassionate, or is our job more to help those outside toughen up and either persevere or find another outsider to bond with? Or do you favor the Lord-of-the-Flies approach, believing that kids should sort it all out among themselves?

Don't be excluded! Speak up and be heard. :-)


Vanessa said...

Just yesterday at B's pre-school, I was watching him play on the playground by himself amid several other children. He typically keeps to himself right now. I overheard a 4 year old say to his friends about Benjamin, "He's a strange boy!" My heart sank. It's already beginning--the exclusion. I wanted to run up to them and say, "he's not strange. he's just shy and quiet, but if you try to get to know him, you will like him-I promise!" But I didn't. I just watched to see how it played out. Nobody played with him. Then I noticed that I too was by myself while all the close knit moms were talking. I was nursing, and maybe they didn't want to bother me, but they could have at least said hello or maybe even intervened when their kid called mine "strange." Oh well. I need to sit on your question a bit and think about it.

I was left out on several occasions growing up. It still stings when I think about some of those moments. But I did force myself to become more of an extrovert with the help of my big brother and I did learn to brush off the mean kids and their comments. My parents also helped me to learn to not be so sensitive as I was able to express my feelings as a kid. I guess they helped "toughen" me up. I remember m dad telling me, "Don't be so sensitive," and then mom would arm me with tools to get through it like, "Well, try not to be so shy and ask if you can play too. This is how you can ask. . ."

So, over the years I overcame my shyness with their help, I guess.

However, if B ever left someone out, I would definitely try to intervene to help him understand that he can hurt someone's feelings by leaving them out. I would hope a teacher would do the same.

There is my two cents :)

Naomi said...

It's late, but I will say this: someone does need to teach the insiders to think about the outsiders. I mean, yes the outsiders need to toughen up. But I think it's crucial that we all learn to consider others feelings and be aware of those around us - especially those who are not aware. Because then you can help many people by helping one child (open their eyes) at a time. Is it the parents job? Maybe not. But I think sometimes it's good for the teachers to intervene gently. I'm speaking in theory, because I'm not there yet. But I know all too well the feeling of being an outsider - still battle with it a lot. On the other hand, I've become very astute at noticing when others are left out - and then I try (when I'm up for it) to include them in a gentle way. It really can help people out and make them happier...hope this makes sense. As I said, it's late...

Margaret said...

Oh goodness, I could have written this post myself. I never had a lot of friends growing up and that was my biggest fear for my children!! I worried that they wouldn't have any friends. My son does well, he has a few close friends and many acquaintances. My daughter is young for her grade and is a little shy. She has one very close friend but seems to overcompensate when she's in a large group. I do want to protect her though and I hate when she's excluded. Even now that my son is a teen I get upset when his friends exclude him! LOL! I'm working on it. Thanks for the great post!

Margaret said...

Hi Hannah, thanks for visiting my blog. I found you because I have Google alerts set up for American Girl and you mentioned American Girl in your last post. I hope you don't mind me commenting! I just felt so in tune with your post!

Stephanie said...

Oooh - I could write a lengthy dissertation on this topic, but I will restrain myself.

But Vanessa's comment reminded me of my own experience. When my son first started preschool, there was a group of moms that were very tightly knit and not very inviting to newbies like me. For a time I felt very excluded. As a reserved person by nature, I often waited to be approached. But at some point I had an epiphany that really ushered in a whole new experience.

I decided I would no longer wait to be invited into the inner circle and began striking up conversations. There was one mom in particular that I had judged as being rather snobby and harbored a growing dislike for her. After several times of ME approaching HER, I learned that this 'snobby' mom was plenty friendly. We (and our daughters) ended up spending a lot of enjoyable time together that year. I had this kind of experience with many of the moms. It just took me pushing myself out of my comfort zone and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

When new kids started at the preschool I made a point to introduce myself and welcome them. If something blossomed from that, wonderful (it often did); if not, no problem, but I knew I had done my part. It was very rewarding and our last two years at that school were very social and enjoyable.

And befriending the other moms will also have a positive effect in helping your own child develop his relationship with their kids. It's a win-win.

And that is my two cents.

Eclectic Mama said...

I guess the way I look at it is that every kid is still learning about social niceties (heck, some adults are too). While the kids are still young, they're more receptive to being guided to acting more accepting.

The problem comes with the age when parents stop being around so much and kids start taking their cues - learning - from their peers, who are still trying to figure things out. Without gentle guidance from level-headed adults, kids can turn pretty selfish because they haven't had enough life experience to know that their actions greatly affect those around them.

So that's my long-winded way of saying that I think it's important that we guide our children to be accepting whenever possible and show them others' viewpoints, instead of letting kids "work it out." In my family, letting kids work it out meant that the older one always won, because he was bigger, more forceful, and excessively demanding. If I hadn't guided him - and his younger sister who was basically a doormat - things would have ended up much differently. BTW, it worked for friends too. Many kids that are friends today excluded kids when they were younger - they just needed a little perspective, which they couldn't have gotten without adult help. And many shy kids I know that now have lots of friends would probably have struggled terribly if they hadn't had adult help too.

I don't much favor the Lord of the Flies approach, but it does take an even hand to help kids work it out without forcing something on a kid who isn't ready, willing, or able.

La Maestra said...

Coming from a Second Grade teacher’s perspective, there is a side that I try to lovingly bring to my parents and, of course, my students. Social aberrations can continue well past the child individuates around 9 years old, when the parents live into their child’s emotional life. Just to be clear, this doesn’t matter whether they are the insider or outsider, or an outsider for that day.
It might look like parent and child “dishing” about classmates (and even teacher) once they are safely in the confines of their car. It might be parental words repeated to a classmate that you know the child did not come up with on their own. This emotional enmeshing is damaging but also difficult to wean parents from engaging in. I appreciated the bloggers who said their parents encouraged them and gave them tools rather than commiserating with them.
If we cannot model appropriate adult behavior, at least two things happen. Child becomes emotionally dependent on parent (which some parents thrive on) to socially cope for them and continues to expect them to intervene well into adolescence, unable to speak directly to the person they may be in conflict with (can’t you just hear the helicopter’s blades). Something else that happens; when social boundaries are not modeled clearly, the child is not able to handle the independence that comes with adolescence and adulthood. Know anyone who appears to be like a tall-sail ship clipping through the rough waves, but when you look through your spy-glass, you see that no one is at the helm? That’s arrested adolescence; it profluent in our society.
I believe parents owe it to their children to acculturate them towards healthy social boundaries by modeling appropriate behavior, even if it means getting out of their comfort zone. The bottom line is that we are the adults, they are the children. If parents can’t be the moral authority, it is unfair to expect that the child will be that in their stead.

Thank you for making us think, Hannah!