Apparently 4 is the age at which meanness begins.
Not meanness like when a toddler hits another over a toy. Or when babies push each other down. The difference is intent. In those cases, the child is upset and merely acting on his/her anger. It's simply a case of not being able to control his/her emotions yet. I have witnessed this countless times in my own kids and the mastering of emotional control is a long process that comes with age.
But I'm talking about meanness. Hurting someone intentionally in a way that you know will stir their emotions. Sadly, kids learn to do this at a fairly young age and I think I just got a little glimpse of my future when I saw it in action this week.
The other day Sam's preschool teacher let me know that one of the boys on the playground at school told Sam that he "didn't want to play with him." Now, Sam has heard this before, it's just come under the guise of sisters and brothers. For some reason, it doesn't hurt as much when it comes from them. Maybe it's because you know that they love you, they're just saying it in a fit of anger ... I'm not sure. I just know that it feels so much different when a friend, a peer, says that to you.
The teacher told me it was no big deal, the boy apologized, and they went on their merry ways and everyone had forgotten about it five minutes later. She just wanted to let me know because she knew it hurt his feelings. She said she could see the hurt in his eyes when the boy told him to go away. My eyes started to well up right there and I had to get out of the carpool line quick so she wouldn't wonder what kind of pushover mom I was when I started tearing up about a simple everyday thing that happens on playgrounds all over the world.
But it's never happened to my kid before. My sweet Sammy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is so caring and just wants to be friends with everyone. What was wrong with that other kid? Why did he have to take advantage of my sensitive guy? And then I realized I was talking about a 4 year old and I laughed a bit at that momma bear instinct that was momentarily ignited. I'd better toughen up because I have a feeling there is a lot more of this in my future.
Sam told me about the incident later and we talked about it for just a bit. I asked him how it felt when the other boy said those things to him and he said it made him sad. So we talked about how words can hurt people and we have to be careful about what we say because we don't want to make others feel sad. We talked about including others and being kind to others in the way that God wants us to be.
Kids are so resilient though. He hasn't said a thing about it since and I know that this is something that all of my children will continually go through as they grow and find their identities. It's hard to teach the lesson about loving others when there are so many people out there that don't love back. This really had been the hardest part of parenting for me thus far - teaching my children our family's values through their own life experiences. Life is a tough teacher, I guess that's why it sometimes takes a lifetime to learn some of the most important lessons.