Unrequited Love Among Kids

Hello everyone.  It’s the week of red hearts, chocolates, small gifts, sweets and love.  Signs of love everywhere and lots of card-making and planning on the part of us parents.  As I write this, you’re probably sticking Hershey’s Kisses onto 25 Valentine’s Day cards for the classroom exchange.

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Yet since I ran into a certain friend last week, I’ve been thinking about another sort of interpersonal situation among kids, one that is less sweet and simple.  Here’s the scenario: your child adores another kid and yet the other child has no apparent interest in playing with or being friends with yours.  How do you explain this to your child?  What — if anything — do you do?

My friend parlayed to me that her friendly six year old seeks out play dates with another girl in her building.  My friend has reached out to the girl’s mother numerous times, trying to set something up, to no response.  The other day my friend and her daughter ran into the other little girl, who announced she was headed for her large birthday party in her home, and didn’t extend an invite to my friend’s child.   “Mommy, can I go to the party,?” my friend’s daughter asked.  And when my friend said “no honey, you’re not going to go to the party” her daughter responded, “why not.”

The etiquette of parties and invitations aside, how should a mom handle the core of this issue: what do you tell your child when for some reason, someone else isn’t particularly interested in being friends with them?

Like a lot of people, I crave being liked by everyone.  I am pretty much the friendly type and talk to virtually everyone around me.  When put among a new group of people, I am eager to get to know them, thinking to myself that I might just make some new really good friends.  I like most other people and enjoy talking to them and learning about them.  That’s my fairly optimistic and open nature, and I’ve pretty much always been that way.

But as my kids grow up and become more selective about who their friends are, they’ve taught me something.  I’m telling them to ignore the kids who are mean to them or don’t want to be friends.  And I’m trying to follow my own advice.  The laws of friendship don’t dictate that you will become friends with everyone!  One year ago I could spend a whole day feeling miserable when someone I knew snubbed me or was rude.  Now, I care so much less — I take it less personally.  I’m realizing that if I take this pressure off myself to have everyone like me, which they never will, I feel lighter, happier.  I no longer have to worry WHY all the time.  WHY did that Mom not bother to chat with me?  WHY did that mom not include me.  I will never know the answer, but the question ruined countless of my days in the past.  Nothing good comes out of this inner questioning — it only leads to a pit of sadness and frustration.

Like love, friendship holds a certain mystery.  There’s a secret potion that cooks up between people who will become friends.  Being with a certain person might make you feel comfortable, taken care of, entertained, excited about life, stimulated, or understood.  This magical commonality that happens between people who instinctively pursue a friendship never repeats itself since each relationship is unique.  If I’ve learned anything from worrying less about non-friends and focusing more on real friends, it’s that friendship is something to be cherished and appreciated, not looked for everywhere but spotted when it does pop up and nurtured.

By teaching our children to respect their intuitions and pursue the friendships that ring true to them (while maintaining their openness and kindness to others) we teach them to value their own choices and really, to value themselves.

So what can my friend do?  I guess I would advise her to spin this hurtful experience in a positive way.  If we’re interested in helping our kids learn positive friendship skills, doesn’t that mean focusing on the positive experiences they have with friends rather than the negatives with non-friends?

So with all that being said, here is what my friend might say (and let me know what you think): “Honey,” she can say, “someday an amazing girl will walk right into your life and you will know right away that she is your friend.  You’ll laugh with her and play with her and draw with her and play dress up with her, and you’ll never have to doubt yourself nor feel bad.  Someone who makes your doubt yourself or feel bad is not your FRIEND.  Not right now anyway.  So don’t worry about that person who makes you feel bad, and just get yourself ready for your real friend.  She can’t wait to meet you.”

Love, Melissa