Parenting a fifth-grader has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced yet. It seems as though this is the year where the maturity gap is the widest among his classmates. There are boys who still watch cartoons and boys who follow sports. There are girls who like kittens and girls who want to marry Justin Bieber. Little by little, I have seen the kids' friendships grow as far apart as their interests.
I stopped by my son’s school last week to join him for lunch, and on more than one occasion he said “hi” or waved to a classmate only to be ignored completely. My heart sank and my blood boiled. I knew right then that he had entered that awful phase in adolescence where kids start to be mean.
I did not have a lot of friends in my ‘tween years. I was shy and awkward. I had bucked teeth and my hair often fell victim to my mom’s experiments with rollers and perm solution. I remember clearly what it felt like to be ignored or made fun of, so it has been my mission to teach my children the importance of kindness and empathy.
I guess I did a better job than I anticipated, because they always see the good in others, often to their disadvantage. My son, who is always truthful, has a difficult time picking up on sarcasm. My daughter, who loves to share, doesn’t realize when she is being taken advantage of.
Two recent events made me realize that it was time to change my ‘always be nice’ approach. The first was when my daughter came home from the book fair with a $4 book and no change from the $10 bill her dad had given her that morning, “My friend didn’t bring enough money for all the things she wanted, so she asked me if she could keep my change.” The second was when my son spent an entire meal trying to get one sentence out, but kept being talked over, “I just wanted to tell him about this video game I saw, but he wasn’t listening so I kept trying to repeat it and he just kept talking.”
I sat down that day and had a talk with my kids. To my daughter, “Sharing is good, but you can’t give things away, especially money, without asking us first." To my son, “If there are kids who constantly ignore or talk over you, just don’t talk to them anymore. They are plenty of other kids who would love to hear what you have to say.”
The hardest thing I had to tell them?
“Unfortunately, no matter how kind you are, some people just don't want to be your friends.”