Goldfish crackers. Who would've thought goldfish crackers would ever launch me into a philosophical rant about raising daughters, friendship selection, self-leadership and individuality when it comes to choosing your own snack?
But yes, here I am. A scuffle involving goldfish crackers have ultimately led me to telling my daughter who she should and should not be best friends with.
Man, have my eyes been opened to the intricate going-ons at school. (And here I thought she'd never tell me anything.) The notorious "girl-stuff" that I've been warned about concerning mean girls, bossy girls, good girls and everything in between has already started. We're not even 6 years old yet.
I will interject a personal belief to set the tone of where I'm coming from with this piece: I firmly believe that no child (my own included) is completely guilty or innocent when it comes to navigating the ups and downs of friendships. Conflicts between kids are unavoidable, and personalities come in all shapes and sizes. It's our job as parents to talk about these things with our children, consistently, so we may teach them how to make good choices, avoid bad choices and how to emanate empathy and respect as they grow up.
I'll be damned if I'm going to allow my daughter to start what could be a toxic friendship.
In an effort to effectively parent my 5-year-old daughter, I ask her the following questions at some point every afternoon (after we've returned home from her half-day of school and are eating lunch):
What was your favorite part about school today?
Did you teacher say anything fun or funny?
Who was nice today?
Who got in trouble today?
The last question frequently yields a response concerning a child who we will call "Leslie."
"Leslie got in trouble for teasing Joey. Leslie got in trouble for talking too much. Leslie got in trouble for taking away the bike from Emily. Leslie was making fun of Tommy's voice."
I soon started keeping tabs on Leslie by asking my daughter what this legendary child did at school every day. My girl is friends with Leslie, and I started getting more curious about how close my daughter was getting to be with her. Because yes, it matters. And yes, us parents can be very watchful about things like this in the name of keeping our kids on the right track.
One of my goals as a parent is to guide my daughters and teach them the life skill of knowing how to select quality friends. Every time my girl would report something questionable about Leslie, my response would be something like, "Be nice to Leslie, but don't be best friends with her. Don't do the things she does and get yourself in trouble just because you're hanging around with her. Got it?" My girl would nod.
Back to the goldfish...
My mama-bear red flag went into full force about a month ago when I was packing the daily snack for school. I'd just bought a huge carton of her favorite goldfish crackers and was pouring them into the plastic baggie when she saw what I was doing and screamed at me in a panic, "No! I don't want goldfish crackers. Leslie doesn't like them and doesn't want me to eat them."
I was shocked.
"You're going to let her tell you what to do?" I questioned.
My girl shook her head. I finished packing the goldfish, shoved them in her bag and dropped her at school.
She came home from school that day with her full bag of goldfish, uneaten. Same thing happened the day after that and the day after that. Every day, I asked her why she didn't eat her favorite crackers. Every day she gave the same answer about how her "friend" Leslie told her to not eat them. I then pretty much hit the roof.
"That's it, you're not allowed to be friends with Leslie anymore if she's being bossy. Friends aren't bossy with friends. Friends don't make friends feel bad."
My girl's eyes got really big and she started to cry. I calmed her down and continued to explain why Leslie's bossiness was making me angry, how I didn't like someone else telling my daughter what she could and could not eat, and how virtually every story I've heard about Leslie involves her teasing someone else, being disrespectful with other kids (and the teacher) or just teasing other"'friends" by mocking them in a high-pitched voice.
It's not respectful, not acceptable. And I'll be damned if I'm going to allow my daughter to start what could be a toxic friendship.
I do believe our kids form values and make choices based on how much we teach them.
So I've laid down some rules at my house for the sake of bringing certain things about friendship to my daughter's attention:
1. Don't be friends with anyone who makes others feel bad. Otherwise, people might think you're mean, too, and that's not OK (because you're not mean).
2. If anyone is ever making fun of another person and you're standing there, tell the mean kid, "That's not nice, stop it now," then walk away and ask a grown up for help.
3. Be nice to all kids, but do not be best friends with the mean ones (unless those mean ones seriously clean up their act). If they're mean to everyone else, eventually they might be mean to you. And you're too good for that.
4. If I ever hear of you being mean to another person, or telling them that they can't do something because you don't want them to, there's going to be trouble in these here home waters.
Listen, I know my daughter's only 5 and I realize my rules might seem harsh to some. I'm a believer in teaching and learning empathy for others (and what they might be struggling with). But I'm also a believer in learning how to decipher what's right and wrong in the way people are treated and how to avoid being viewed as guilty of bad behavior purely by association. I'm an unwavering believer in talking to my daughters and informing them which friends are A-OK good eggs and which friends are potential big trouble.
I do believe our kids form values and make choices based on how much we teach them while they're still young to take our word for it, and I believe this foundation does affect their ability to make better choices as they grow. I'm also a big believer in having the backbone to enjoy the snack of your choice with the school of fish you swim with—which is exactly what my daughter is doing again these days, thanks to her own developing backbone.
Stick with the nice kids, stay away from the bad kids and always stand up for the right thing.