Playground friendships and growing up

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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

They say four is when children leave the last bits of their babyhood behind, and so far, little A has been proving that true. We’re done with diapers and breastfeeding – and have been for a long time now. She no longer wants to hold my hand – only grabbing mine when it’s time to cross the road, and only because I insist for safety reasons. Her step is sure and confident, and no longer has that tell-tale toddler waddle.

But the one area where she is most noticeable growing up (and growing away from us) is in the way she relates to other people. Babies only care about their parents and maybe grandparents too, or whoever their caregivers are. Toddlers begin to notice other children, in so much as when the other child has something they want, such as a cookie or a toy.

And now, with a preschool aged child, I have daily evidence that her peer group is beginning to matter. She loves social play – there’s dress up, make believe and all sorts of fantasy adventures and shenanigans every day. Sharing is now spontaneous instead of parentally-imposed. She’s beginning to understand the value of cooperating and of taking turns. Other people have feelings too, and they matter.

This new level of consciousness, however, also brings the awareness that other people’s feelings can be affected by her actions, both positively and negatively. So, while she’s becoming ace at sharing and taking turns – she’s also becoming adept at refusing when she wants to.

“I won’t share with him because he hit me,” she told me matter-of-factly the other day. And who was I to argue? I wouldn’t share with people who hit me either. I was mostly relieved her solution to being hit wasn’t to hit back, I guess.

But with all this also comes the complicated dynamics of friendship. Her various relationships with the children at her daycare seem to change like the weather – some days she will play with one girl, some days another. Some days she seems content to play on her own. Some days we hear the refrain of “well, he can’t join us because he’s a BOY!”

I had hoped we’d have an extended honeymoon before we had to deal with the complexities of navigating friendships, but it appears we have arrived right on schedule for the fraught fours. The other day, I overheard:

“It’s mine!”

“No, I saw it first!”

“Well, I want you to share it!”

“I won’t share it!”

“I won’t be your friend if you won’t share it!”

Then wild sobbing. “She won’t be my friend anymore!”

And just like that, a preschooler’s heart breaks. I hold her as she sobs, trying to piece together what happened. And I – futilely – try to broker a peace. Neither girl would have it, both of them too proud to concede an inch.

Yet, the next day, the two of them have forgotten and forgiven, and the backyard is full of happy make-believe noises of princesses and dragons. If only adults had this magical capacity just like these four-year-olds – to feel every emotion so passionately, but to also not let the grief harden into bitterness. In this day and age, it feels like it’s a lesson that we all could stand to learn.

 

Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at bethgoeswriting.com.

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