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My Toddler's Friendship Freaked Me Out

Last week, I found myself standing in the snack food aisle in the grocery store having an argument with myself and laughing at myself at the same time. The source of the angst? My fear that my daughter was being emotionally bullied by the girl she called her best friend.

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My daughter loves bringing snacks in to share with her friends. According to her teacher, it's something a few of the kids do. For my daughter, it's an opportunity for her to bond with her friends and make new ones. I think it's sweet and I'm happy to help my naturally reserved and generous kid find new ways to create bonds.

On the day in question, my husband dropped our daughter off to her preschool that morning.When he returned, he told me she had the wind knocked out of her sails a little by Suzette, who asked our daughter (as she excitedly revealed her snack of the day), "Why do you always bring the same snacks in?!"

When I heard that, I felt sad for her. Those words were hard to hear. "OUCH, that hurt my feelings!" I half-joked. And when my husband described our babygirl's face as she heard those words, I winced. I couldn't shake my sadness off. I was, as some would say, verklempt. Or as I would say to my close friends, "all up in my feelings."

I tried to let it go. I knew friendships are emotionally volatile with kids that age. One minute they miss each other, the next minute they're crying and screaming. For that reason, I didn't want to make the situation bigger than it was.

My daughter deserved to be friends with someone who wanted to be friends with her.

But Suzette was the first kid from school my daughter really talked about. She was the first kid my daughter wanted to invite to our house for a playdate. They used to play together all the time, then something changed. A new girl came along and they didn't play together as much. My daughter would tell me that she and Suzette were no longer "best friends" or that Suzette did something to upset her. And while I reassured my daughter that it was OK to speak up if she didn't like how she was being treated. I knew that I was applying adult rationality to childhood emotions, so I kept my feelings to myself.

But this last incident about the snacks felt like the last straw. My daughter deserved to be friends with someone who wanted to be friends with her.

So an hour before I had to collect her from pre-school, I was standing in the snack aisle of a grocery store, having a quiet argument with myself. It went something like this:

Reactionary mama: Get her new snacks.

Rational mama: By getting the snacks I'd be teaching her that her friends' opinion matters more than it should. And it was just a comment!

Reactionary mama: But what she said made babygirl a little sad, and babygirl is so sensitive ... and she really wants to be her friend!

Rational mama: Babygirl is not a delicate flower. She knows how to use all of her words to make herself understood. And seriously ... they're 3!

Reactionary mama: Why did she have to say that? She just wants to be her friend! WE'LL SHOW HER!!!!

I couldn't make up my mind. Laughing at my lunacy, I bought two different snack packs anyway. I felt a little better for doing that.

What really made me feel better was getting more information. So I did some research on how best to help with these young relationships. Some of my favorite tips included:

1. "Encourage them to reach beyond their social sphere and become comfortable in a range of situations and with a range of people."

2. Help your daughter understand that conflicts can be resolved. According to Jane Katch,"'If a conflict occurs, you might start by asking your daughter, 'How did (her friend) make you feel?' or 'What would you like to say to [them]?'

3. Once you help your child understand that a conflict can be resolved, they might be happy to move beyond the conflict and start fresh.

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When I collected her from school, she told me that another kid was her best friend and didn't seem bothered by Suzette. She enjoyed kicking the ball with him at playtime. I was relieved.

I was inspired by what Jane Katch said about learning to resolve conflicts, so I checked in to see how my daughter was feeling and let her know that it was OK for her to say what SHE wanted to do—or in this case eat what she wanted to. She nodded like she understood. I wasn't so sure she got everything I was saying, but it was a start.

I didn't show her the new snacks either; I wanted to back my words (that it was OK if you and your friend don't like the same thing) with my actions. In some way, I wanted to encourage her to see that she didn't have to react to the desires or demands of her friends in order to keep them. I wanted to give her the chance (yes, the chance), if she needed to, to stand up for herself, just as it was OK for her to disagree with her friend on matters big or small.

But I didn't have to do that this time.

The next morning she asked to select her own snack packet. She chose the same snack she had the day before.

Photograph by: Getty Images

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