This topic has always made me uneasy. I don't want to lose street cred with her and tell her that she's being silly, or that pressure to fit in or have friends doesn't exist. But I don't want to fill her head with my not-so-objective thoughts about this, either.
"Well, you can be nice and popular at the same time, honey. In fact, many people are popular because they are nice." I have no idea what I'm doing.
"No," she says definitively. "Popylar people are mean."
This all started in Pre-K, actually. There was a kid in her class that was picked on a lot. Greta came home one day and told me that she had been served an ultimatum by a couple of girls in her class: Stop being nice to X or we won't be your friend. I asked her how that made her feel.
"It makes me feel sad," she said. "X is always nice to me, so why shouldn't I be nice back?"
It is hard not to jump in with both feet and tell her what I think she should do. Unless she is the instigator or is being bullied, I want her to figure out her own way.
Last year a friend came up to her at recess and said, out of the blue, "I just want you to know we're not friends anymore."
Greta got off the bus that day with a long face, and burst into tears the minute she got inside. She was hurt and confused; she wanted to know what she had done to make this person not want to be her friend.
I let her cry for a bit, and then asked her if she wanted my advice on what to do. She nodded.
"When people hurt your feelings and you don't know why, it is hard," I said, "because it is tempting to hurt them right back."
'Yeah," she said. "This morning I was going to tell her I didn't want to be her friend anyway, but that isn't true."
"If someone hurts your feelings, I think the best thing to do is tell them. You can't make them nicer, or change their mind, but you can let them know how you feel. You can say 'that hurts my feelings' the next time this happens."
"Okay," she sniffed.
"And you know what? If you leave her alone for a while, I bet she'll forget she said she doesn't want to be friends. Either way, just keep away from her for awhile, so she doesn't have a chance to hurt your feelings again."
The next afternoon, she got off the bus in good spirits. "Guess what?" she said. "That girl said it again today - that she doesn't want to be my friend. I told her that hurt my feelings, and she said she didn't care."
"I'm sorry she wasn't nice," I say. "But you seem like you're okay?"
"Yeah," she says. "I just played with other people instead."
A few days later I asked her what had happened with that girl. She giggled and said, "Oh, it was funny. Yesterday she came up to me in the lunch line and started talking to me. I think she forgot she didn't want to be my friend. And I wasn't about to remind her."
It makes my heart break a little, this growing up too soon. I am tempted to offer platitudes: I'm sure all the kids like you, or don't worry about it, it all works out in the end. Because sometimes it doesn't, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Greta is finding her own kind of individuality. So far, she doesn't pretend to like something just to fit in, she wears what she likes and not because other kids think it is cool. School shopping this year, she picked out her own clothes, and she has a kooky sense of style. I found myself trying to steer her towards the brand names, the safe bets. "How about this shirt instead?" I asked, pointing to a simple striped Land's End shirt.
She wrinkled her nose, and held up the bright purple tee shirt with little sea horses all over it. "But nobody else will have this one, Mom. I like this one better."Atta girl.