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The impatience of Patience

Patience is acting like that little girl we all remember hating in elementary school: the snobby rude girl. And she's best friends with the other little girl we all remember hating in elementary school: the teasing, taunting girl who bestows her favor on one or two kids. Since this girl is Patience's BFF, she has decided she needs no other friends. At all. Period. And anyone who endeavors to be friendly to her, she scoffs at and rejects.

In other respects, Patience (and this other girl) are basically good and nice little kids. Left unchecked, I'm sure this could develop into some norm, but I do not plan to leave this unchecked.

Thus far, unfortunately, my efforts have not been successful and in fact, over the last six months I've seen it escalate, and spread.

She's always been a prickly child with definitive personal boundaries---almost Victorian in her formality.

"Have we been properly introduced? I do not think so, therefore you must not speak to me."

"I do not hold with large, overt shows of emotion---unless they are my drama---but certainly not with undignified displays such as running to and hugging one exuberantly."

I was sometimes self-conscious picking up Patience because she never showed any sign of being glad to see me, and sometimes even said she was not ready for me to be there. The other children raced to their mothers with a joyful squeal and launched their bodies into Mom's arms for a huge hug.

I looked on the bright side: Patience was comfortable in her environment, I understood she transitioned hard, and I recognized her public shyness with personal displays.

I knew when we got home she'd be up for a long lap cuddle and elbow rub. I honestly don't need her to be any certain way.

But I do know that others judge, and expect a certain something from children that Patience won't give.

I have two Patience Rules:

1. Others must respect her boundaries.

2. She must respect other's feelings.

Number one is crucial to me because we send out mixed signals to children constantly about their bodies, and their obligation to use their bodies to make other people happy---what they owe with themselves and their bodies to others. It's way more complicated than anything that can be boiled down into one simple rule, but rule 1 is my first step towards teaching Patience that her Self is sacred, and nobody has a right to demand that she must sacrifice/compromise her Self to accomodate their adult preferences.

For example...

In tickle fights, stop means stop. If she doesn't care to run and hug or kiss family, I do not force it and don't let family force it either.

Close people have come to understand this---and why---and the times she does hug or cuddle mean a great deal. She needs a bit of time to become comfortable, and every time you see Patience, my super sensitive hyper aware girl, you start back at square one.

And that's where we hit number two. The world cannot bend around Patience. She must find a way to accomodate it and herself. Not grabbing and hugging Grandma because it makes her feel uncomfortable is okay, but she must nevertheless be kind and find a way to display her greeting and affection. So she has decided to run in and share her current favorite piece of knowledge or toy. Grandma understand this means, "HELLO! I love you!" in Patience-talk.

I expect kindness and politeness, courtesy and respect from my children. I offer it as a model and in return. I say please to them, thank you, and sorry, for example. I do my best to always display my awareness of them as sentient beings.

That's why Patience's current rudeness is so frustrating. And I know where it will lead which is why it is so heartbreaking.

I suppose one school of thought is to stand aside and let the natural consequences go to work, let her learn from that. I can't make her learn the lesson, but thus far I have been a more active participant, pointing out when something she did was not cool and letting her know okay things to do instead, or pointing out when she did something nice, doing little practice exercises, and trying to broaden her horizons---hoping that by doing so she'll ultimately take up the reins herself.

For example, at the beginning of the year, we changed her gymnastics class. One reason behind this was to take her out of class with her BFF and expose her to other children, with whom we hoped she'd make friends. No go. She has been staunchly, belligerantly opposed to being even remotely friendly, and has been downright rude at times, deeply hurting the feelings of another girl. We handled this with Patience.

But we have failed, failed, failed to have any positive effect thus far.

She is, at heart, a very sweet and kind little girl, who can be sensitive not only to herself, but to others. I just want to see more of that, and less Mean Girl.

I hope/have faith that we will get there in the long run. Which is, I hope, soon, and sooner rather than later because I know how these things have a habit of following you.

In the meantime, her father and I stay up way too late some nights, worrying ourselves about her behavior---which is across the board an issue, not just with friends---and how to address this. We review what we've done, think about options, and discuss it.

Little girl...oh little girl with a hot heat bubbling inside you, pushing you to do this. Are you scared or hurt, protecting yourself? Are you worried or anxious? Is the world simply confusing, frustrating you? Little girl, we love you.


I know today is Wednesday, Hump Day. I'll put up my own answer to the question with the Host Post.

EDITED WITH UPDATE: Since I have come to doing Hump Day Hmms every other week, and the deadline often seems burdensome to most, I have a suggestion: I put up the Hump Day Hmm "assignment" one week, and do the Host Post the following week. So assignment and post alternate weeks. This gives everyone a full 7 days (or so) to get around to it. How's that?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


thailandchani said…
This is a wonderful post.. and it's so good that you recognize Patience as a separate human being and allow room for her to be who she is. I was never one for overt displays of affection, either. Patience makes sense to me there. It did feel very violating to have adults telling me that I *had* to show physical affection.

Definitely a no-no with kids! It reinforces exactly what you stated, that their bodies are not their own.

The Mean Girl stuff... wow... I can't imagine where she would get that. I do hope you are able to get her away from that kind of behavior which will never serve her well!


kaliroz said…
Oh, Julie, this made me cry. Seriously.

My adventurer is much more overt in her affection and her love of everything -- perhaps a natural born Buddhist? ;) -- but there are moments, oh there are moments, when I have no idea where this child came from or why she's behaving this way.

We don't force her to give physical affection, either. She will when she warms up to you ... but if she doesn't want to, we try not to push it.

Her preschool actually as a name for this "The Feelies". If a kid gets too close to another they basically say, "Back off X you're giving me the Feelies".

I don't know what to tell you about what's going on with Patience. She seems like the kind of child that, if you put too many restrictions on her, she'll just withdraw further. Know what I mean?

I'm sorry, Julie. I wish I had magic words of wisdom.
S said…
This one hit me hard, Julie. I fell in with a mean girl for a time until she suddenly, shockingly, viciously turned on me. Just because she could. I hope you can withdraw Patience from her "BFF"'s influence, somehow. I wish I knew how.

As for Patience's personality (which reminds me of Ben's, except that for Ben PDAs aren't averse but more like an afterthought; he's not prickly but absentminded), you sound like you're incredibly sensitive to the person she is and will be. Kudos to you.
K said…
I've snuck back on the computer to get a quick Julie fix. I think that you are right to intervene. Children do need to be taught, they don't actually learn everything by osmosis. We sometimes assume that they will imitate us or apply the rules generally, but they don't. We have to point out the connections for them. I keep trying to learn that children take a long time to change behaviors. It's often a constant correcting and correcting and correcting. My hope is that eventually it will take in the end.

I have known many children that are not affectionate in a traditional sense. I admit that I want to hug them so badly, but I don't. Children like your Patience have taught me patience-and you have no idea how resistant I am to that lesson.
Ms. Skywalker said…
Wonderful post.

Big A is going through this; once exuberant in her affection, now the shy girl in the corner, pointing her toe out. With her momma wondering whether to drag her onto the floor or take her a stool to sit on with her favorite book to read.
Christine said…
This was a great post.

My girl has two little friends who are not at all into physical affection or lots of hugs, etc. I have taught my daughter to respect their boundaries and always ask for before giving a hug. I have learned, too, that a simple "hi" and smile is enough and that getting in their face and asking a million questions or trying to hug them is too, too much. I also tell my own kids that giving hugs, etc. is not mandatory. They do what they are comfortable with, but a "hello" and "goodbye" is always expected.

And, like k, i think it is great that you are teaching her how to be kind and respectful. You could, as you noted, stand back and let her learn from the consequences. But sometimes those consequences come about through other's pain? KWIM? I am not implying that Patience wold hurt anyone, but i know parents with a blanket "let them work it out on their own" philosophy. This works in lots of cases, but if i see my kid being mean in any way to someone else, even unintentionally, i am going to take the time to correct them, teach them, and discipline if necessary (ie time out or loss of a privilege like tv). I never want to see my kids hurt someone else. I have seen parents simply stand there while their kids are being mean or fighting and they simply say, "let them work it out." Uhhh, what??? In order to prevent injury both emotional and physical we HAVE to tell them when their behavior is hurtful; that is how they learn.

Julie, i can just tell you are an awesome mother to these girls. With you to guide her she'll be just fine.

There is a great book out there called "raising your spirited child" by mary sheedy kurcinka that addresses some of these issue. It is a great for all types of sensitive kids.
Aliki2006 said…
Beautiful and sensitive post. Liam has been at the other end of a Mean Girl at his school all year, actually, and we've spent so much time trying to explain to him that she is most likely not just mean but that there are more complex thoughts/fears (?) going on and that he needs to be patient and understanding.

Kids are all so different--sometimes wired so differently from us. It sounds like you're doing just what you need to do--let her be herself.
Anonymous said…
You are a wise mother and a beautiful writer. Great post.

My daughter is very physically affectionate. Almost to the point where I think it's aggression. She's big for her age and can topple an unsuspecting adult with her hugs. I wonder if people think I ignore her in favor of her little brother, she sometimes acts so "needy" with almost total strangers.

There are times, though, when she acts as though she can only love her favorite person (99% of the time, moi). After she has spent a wonderful day with her Gram and I come to pick her up, she turns into a complete mean-britches to her Gram in order to make up for her "betrayal" to me. I observed this behavior come (and go!) with her cousin, who is 3 years older.
Lawyer Mama said…
Great post and what you're doing with Patience is wonderful. I hated forced physical intimacy as a child too. It's a personality thing and it's wonderful that you let Patience have her boundaries.

I also think you're right to intervene with Patience and her BFF. That sort of behavior may start out as a protective, instinctual thing, but it then becomes a learned habit. And she'll be hurt even more by others' reactions to her in what was probably initially an attempt to protect herself.

Ah, you're a great mom for worrying about her so.
Unknown said…
I do not envy you your task. Marley has been on the periphery of a group of girls, three total, who together are quite a formidable force in the classroom. Sometimes they include her, sometimes they don't. I know that even within their gang of three they bicker and take turns leaving another one out. The moms have been beside themselves dealing with it.

On another note, I like the idea of having a week's notice on the Wednesday posts. Thanks!
Christine said…
So is the idea that we do the hump day thing you suggested but post it next wednesday? I probably won't get to it til later this week or next anyway, so no prob either way.
a confused newbie
My daughter shows signs of being a bit like Patience. She's been sensitive about who touches her, hugs her, even looks at her since birth. I can desensitize a fearful dog (most of the time) but a sensitive child is a whole other animal entirely. :)

It sounds like you and your husband are doing all the right things in regards to the "mean girl" issue. That can't be easy, Julie, I admire you for how much care and thought you're obviously putting into your kids. That may sound silly but others might just put their head in the sand and wait for the problem to work itself out.
Gwen said…
I'm sorry you're in this uncomfortable place. Charlotte also has a BFF like this, but Charlotte isn't prone to attach herself only to her. She's the kid who has to be told NOT to hug everyone. Still, her BFF is constantly trying to manipulate Chash into playing if not only with her then at least her games exactly the way she decides they must be (and I mean EXACTLY). When these conditions aren't met "Claire" refuses to play at all. The thing is, I WISH her parents would do something about it. They just kind of laugh it off, Oh that's just Claire. And then, b/c Claire is our neighbor and in/at our house all the time, I find myself in the awkward position of trying to figure out how to protect the children Claire is hurting with her Mean Girl games while not overstepping my bounds as just a neighbor mom. It's frustrating. We talk to Charlotte all the time about being a good friend, choosing the right kind of friends, etc. but the proximity of Claire makes all of that moot. I dread junior high with this girl, honestly.

NOT to make this all about me. Just know that you're not alone in your struggle and that many of us are working on teaching our children the right truths about friendship and that it's a process. Patience will work it out, I feel confident, because you are actively involved in helping her do so.
Julie Pippert said…
All...thanks so much for your wonderful comments. You gave some great ideas and good feedback, plus support. I have a lot to ponder on this, but wanted to say thanks. :)
Mad said…
Thanks for this. As you know, I struggle with many of these issues. Miss M is very affectionate to me but is downright mean to just about everyone else. I know that in a few years she will be in Patience's shoes b/c I cannot imagine her wanting more than one best friend at a time (I hope she chooses wisely) and that will mean her wanting to love that person to the exclusion of all others. She can already give all and sundry the hairy eyeball. Oy.

You've hit the nail on the head of the problem, though. We can try all we want to protect their boundaties and to mitigate their rudeness but in the end we simply have to wait for them to gain the maturity to understand the lessons we keep trying to teach. ... and that'll be about the time the sting of peer pressure sets in. Your persistence will pay off eventually.

Great picture, btw. Oh, how I know that look.
Magpie said…
So interesting. My child is younger, but I occasionally see flashes of "other" behavior that is odd to me - flashes of "mean girl", flashes of "princess". Mostly she's charming and sweet and devilish, but other kids sometimes bring out an unpleasant side.

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