Monday, April 12, 2010

Are We Raising "Seattle Nice?"

Gotta love preschoolers.

There I was minding my own business and helping one of the 4yr olds get their coat on, when behind me a scuffle of gigantic preschool proportions is erupting. I would love to say that I was on top of things and knew exactly what was happening, but I didn't. I didn't know who started it or what was going on, except it ended with a pushing match.

"She's not my friend, I don't like her!" said the one. (let's call her Sally)

Now you have to picture the other little girl's face. Crestfallen, she snuggles closer to her mom. The sad doe eyes emerge and tears begin to pool like at the top of a cup that has been filled to the brim. The lip trembles...

"I can see your frustrated" (notice the emotion coaching) I say to Sally. "but we're all friends at preschool and Jane looks really saddened by what you just said"

Sally looks at me like I must be loosing my mind.

"She's not my friend." She repeats because obviously I didn't get it the first time. Then she dismissed me with a flip of the hair and walks out of the class and heads to the playground.

So - no this was not one of my finer Parent Education moments, but I did start thinking about what exactly we're teaching our children when we tell them "we're all friends" or "Look at her face, she looks really sad about what you just said"

Are we somehow creating what everyone has come to call SEATTLE NICE.

On the East Coast would Sally have been guided into softer language or would someone have just said "I don't blame you, if someone grabbed my stuff and then pushed me they wouldn't be my friend either."

Is it okay for preschoolers to not be friends? and if so, how do we deal with that in the classroom?

What does it teach someone when you ask them to be friends with someone else who has offended them somehow and what does that say to the offender?

If I had it to do over again (and believe me I have this is an almost everyday occurrence in preschool) I would tell Sally.

"I see you're frustrated. She wasn't acting much like a friend should act, what would you like to say to her and what would you like to see happen to solve this problem?" (or something like that)

Something that showed Sally I understood and accepted her right not to befriend someone who hurt her. Something that encouraged her to express her feelings, but also guided her to look for solutions.

We can't always be friends, and I wouldn't want my children to be friends with people who have hurt or offended them.

In Seattle I think we are raised not to offend anyone, we learn early how to say the right things and bite our tongues. On the other hand, that could be just me. Anyway I've learned a lot from preschoolers and one of the things is that you get to choose who you want to spend time with, that sometimes you get to voice your opinions and not worry about how it affects those around you. That there is power in truth and in listening to it. I find it funny that the people I most admire are those "frank" east coast types. I try to borrow a little directness whenever I can and as an adult, I don't make a habit of having friends who are harmful to me.

If that is what we want for our children - how do we go about it without creating a classroom of non-friends?

Today's Parenting Lesson: Well, hopefully some will come in the comments. But for my part, I say. Listen. When your children express how they feel and have made a decision about someone, feel free to ask questions, have conversations, help them find mutually respectful solutions, and then be prepared to except it. Know that preschool alliances change quicker than those on Survivor and that very rarely is anyone ever voted off the island.  As parents we get the wonderful opportunity to help guide them in problem solving and teach negotiation skills that can last a lifetime. Children are expressing themselves in their flexibility and trying on what works for them. Preschool is the perfect time to experiment with what it means to be a friend and what it means to have one.

Today's Life Lesson: Take a look around. Whom do you have around you and what do you HONESTLY think about them. If the greatness of being young is you get to speak your mind and you can walk away from those who hurt you - why can't we as adults do the same thing. Friends should be chosen because together you add more to each other then you would have apart. If something feels wrong - address it, or look them in the eye say "You're not my friend" fling your hair back and walk with confidence out to the playground.


  1. Hi Cesily,

    I believe that when we listen to and validate a child's feelings we are helping them listen to their "gut". Teaching kids to listen to their "gut" is a gift and will serve them well throughout life.

    We can often get so worried about offending the "offending" child/parent that we can easily dismiss the "offended" child's experience (because we find it uncomfortable to do so).

    Kids don't have to like and befriend all other kids. Of course that's okay! They need to know that they have the right to like who they like. However, what we do need to teach them around this issue is respect. Even though you don't like someone, you still have to be respectful and polite. I think this is how you don't create a classroom full of "non-friends". You don't have to be friends, but you do need to respect each other's differences and allow room for other personalities. So long as no one gets hurt! :)

    (Malcolm's mom @ Meadowbrook 3-5's)

  2. Thanks for an interesting article, Cecily.

    You touch on some important points, such as being honest and direct if we are going to be true to ourselves and have authentic relationships.

    As a parent, two of the many things I want to foster in my kids are resilience and the ability to assert themselves. If we worry too much about not offending people or about "everyone being friends," we risk not allowing our kids to express feelings or stand up for themselves. I think it's important to let them know it is okay if they don't want to be friends with someone and that they can do this in respectful ways.