Sophia was having a hard time falling asleep. She had popped out of bed four times already, so when I heard her sobbing, I thought it was another ploy. I was reluctant to go in.
But then my maternal instinct kicked in. It tugged at my aorta, and whispered, “What if it isn’t?”
Alright, alright. I’ll check. But, I told my maternal instinct, “there better be a good reason she’s carrying on.”
I stood next to the ladder to her loft, one hand on my hip, my eyebrows raised expectantly.
“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” Sophia choked out, between sobs. This was something she had never said before.
“But why, Soph? You love school.”
“The girls don’t want to play with me!”
“Sophie, you have lots of friends at school. “ I named a few to drive the point home. “I find it very hard to believe that none of them will play with you.”
“They don’t! They left me all alone on the playground!” She continued to sob. I know that, even at this age, children can be cruel. She has shared, on occasion, an unkind word that was hurled her way. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has cast a few stones herself.
“Okay, okay. Shhhhh.” I tried to calm her. “Would you like for me to talk to your teacher? Would that make it better?”
Sophie shook her head yes. Well, maybe there is a problem. Best to let her know I’m on it. That I hear what she’s saying, and I take it seriously.
“Okay, I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Feel better?”
She nodded again. I tucked her in, and she fell asleep.
The next morning, I revisited the issue at breakfast. I wanted to make sure she stood by her story, and see if there was anything I was missing.
“So, Soph, can you tell me a little more about what happened on the playground?”
She got very serious. “Sure mom. You see, I wanted to play ice cream store. And none of the other kids wanted to play ice cream store. They all wanted to play tag. But I didn’t want to play tag.”
Oh. I see. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to play with her. They just didn’t want to play what she was playing. Or, perhaps, dictating.
Just a week ago, I had taken Sophia and her friend Reid out to an indoor playground. Reid and Sophia have known each other since birth and adore each other. But Reid now has a sister that Sophie tends to gravitate towards when all the kids come together, so he was very much looking forward to sometime alone with his old pal.
The playground was empty. “Bet you can’t catch me,“ Sophie taunted and was off, running laps around the playground on tip toe in stocking feet. At first, Reid chased her with glee, but on about the 10th lap, he started to slow down. Sophie ran back to him.
“I know, Reid! How about we’re both babies! Let’s crawl around!” Reid smiled weakly and crawled around with Sophia.
“I know, Reid! Let’s pretend this blue part of the rug is the water and we have to jump from rock to rock or we’ll fall in!” Reid dutifully jumped after Sophia.
“I know Reid! Let’s pretend we’re catching fish for our dinner!” Reid, looking defeated started to follow Sophie.
“Hey Reid!” I called to him.
“What?” he replied, trotting up to me.
“You look like you’re tired of always doing what Sophie wants to do.” He nodded, eyes cast downward.
“You know, Reid, you don’t have to do what she wants to do all the time. You can suggest your own ideas. What would you like to do?”
“I want to be a Power Ranger!” Hmmm. Hard sell, I thought. I called Sophie over,
“Sophie. Reid wants a turn to come up with an idea for pretend.”
“Let’s be Power Rangers!” Reid suggested, hopeful.
“I don’t want to be a Power Ranger,” Sophie replied. She looked thoughtful for a moment, “but I could be Wonder Woman.”
“Okay!” Reid brightened at the prospect of their unlikely superhero duoship.
“I have a bow and arrow, like Brave!” she announced, “and I’m going to shoot an arrow at you!” She did, and they proceeded to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
At least everyone was happy.
I considered Sophie’s behavior. It wasn’t bossiness, per se, but rather an abundance of enthusiasm. She was so wrapped up in her own ideas, she hadn’t considered that Reid might want to do something other than what she wanted to do. Or her friends on the playground for that matter. It was time for an object lesson.
“So what did you do?” I asked her after she swallowed a spoonful of oatmeal.
“None of them wanted to play with me, so I played with myself.”
“By myself,” I corrected. It was an important distinction.
“By myself,” she repeated.
“Honey, it sounds like it wasn’t that they didn’t want to play with you—just that they wanted to play something different. I know you have a lot of ideas about what to do, but, if you want to play with the other kids, sometimes you have to do what they want to do. It’s called give and take.”
Sophie looked wary. I still wanted to talk to Sophie’s teacher, but with a different aim in mind.
Though there is a rule that you really aren’t supposed to corner the teacher as she’s getting ready for her day, Sophie’s teacher graciously let me corner her.
“Ms. P, do you have a sec? There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
She nodded and we convened by the reading nook.
I told her about Sophie crying and not wanting to go to school the night before. Ms. P looked surprised. Then, I shared Sophie’s interpretation—that her friends don’t want to play with her—and my own analysis of the situation.
Ms. P smiled knowingly. It was just as I had suspected. “Sophie is a very strong little girl. We love that about her, and we wouldn’t want to change it. But, like some of her peers, sometimes she wants things a particular way and we have to help her be a bit more…flexible.” I love that Ms. P gets Sophie. That, rather than think in pejorative terms—bossy, stubborn, strong-willed—she understands the pros and cons of the personality trait in question.
“I’m on the playground in the morning, and Ms. F has the playground in the afternoon. Would you like for us to keep an eye on things and help Sophie work it out with her friends?”
Yes. That is exactly what I wanted. I nodded and thanked her.
I walked over to Sophie. “I talked to Ms. P. She’s going to help you take turns figuring out what to play with your friends on the playground, okay?”
Sophie nodded, satisfied. I kissed her goodbye and left for work, satisfied.
There were others that would help me teach Sophie the value of compromise. I am not alone in this. She will, hopefully, begin to understand the perspective of others—that sometimes her own desires and needs will conflict with theirs, but that concessions can be made to preserve the relationship. She will learn that having her own way is not more important than having friends.