"Friendship is a joy found quite often through pain, sometimes great pain. That's why it feels so good when we get there."- Teacher Tom
This is a blog that I've needed to write for a while. The subject has been weighing heavily on my mind: as parents and educators how do we deal with the incredibly large emotions our kids feel? Especially preschoolers! Then I logged on to Facebook the other day and saw that Practical Parenting (from our good friend Tracey Biebel!!!) had reposted a blog from my most favorite person: Teacher Tom. Amazingly, it was on this exact subject and you can find it here.
Not only did Teacher Tom touch on the rejection that we as parents and educators feel when the children we love and care for are rejected but he talked about something even more difficult to handle: when your own children reject others. As an educator I'm somewhat removed from these feelings, I can see that the child's rejection isn't necessarily about the other child but the moment they are in. I can remember that sometimes children are attracted to playing with certain kids more often due to their personalities just "fitting" that certain way. I recall how I as an adult have people I love, people I like, and people I put up with. I'm just more clued in to the socially acceptable ways of not liking someone else. I know how to navigate the trickiness that comes with the territory of not wanting to hang out with someone in a friendly manner. Children are still learning these skills- how to be a friend to someone who isn't being a friend to you, how to approach someone you don't like... and lots of other skills that even adults sometimes can't manage to be successful at. I can remember this as a teacher in my classroom and I can remember that it's my job to help children with these skills and to model behaviors for them. It's part of social learning after all.
I can also remember how fleeting emotions are: for both children and adults. "I don't like you!" is often "I don't like you right now because you didn't let me use the ball first." or "I don't like you right now because you were yelling and it's too loud for me."
However, as a parent it's pretty hard to not roll up in a ball when your child feels rejection. As a parent it's almost impossible to not try to correct my child's behavior when he rejects someone else. And as a parent of a Kindergartner I've been feeling his rejection and the need to control his rejection of others pretty often these past five months. My son comes home crying because so and so kicked him in line outside. He's bawling about going to school because so and so intentionally pushed another kid into a desk and he got hurt in the fray. In the beginning of the year when his teacher was still new to him, he was sobbing because he Teacher Joe* didn't protect him from the other kids.
All of this and the burgeoning feelings I've seen in my own classroom made me want to write a post about how to handle it when your children hear or say "I don't like you!" Then I read Teacher Tom's post and I cried as I reached this line, "We as parents, really are helpless and impotent when we try to do anything other than hold them, and listen to them, and feel with them."
Much in the way that my friends cannot stop me from making mistakes like loving someone who won't reciprocate my feelings, extending myself beyond my abilities and means, or giving more of myself than I should in a friendship... we cannot stop our children from giving or receiving these feelings of rejection. However, we can always, always be there for them when it happens. We can hold them and tell them about our own failures, our own rejections, and our own emotional response to these things (when age appropriate of course). We can be available and just listen to how hard it was to feel that way. We can talk about why those feelings are there and what they might do next time. We can be present and available in any way they might need us. When they face those temporary rejections, we can offer them unconditional, permanent love.
That is, after all, what love is. It's permanent. It's unconditional. It doesn't change no matter what the other person does. The way we love someone or how much we "like" them might change, but the love we feel for our children is forever. We can teach them that no matter what happens, we will be there to love them. We can teach them that no matter what happens, they will be there to love themselves.
*Name of Teacher Joe is fictionalized.