He Said, She Said

October 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Giggles, Transylvania | 23 Comments
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Giggles is having trouble at school.

Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s hard to know.

The teacher says he plays by himself. She says other kids try to include him and he rebuffs them. When all the children are on the playground, he follows Lollipop and her friends around until Lollipop decides she’s had enough. She shoos him away. Squabbles ensue until he leaves. To play. Alone.

Giggles says the other kids are mean. He says they don’t want to play the things he wants to play. At bedtime, he calls us into his room to tell us he doesn’t want to go to school. “Is it Saturday?” he asks. “When is Saturday?”


The kid practically sleeps in the yellow construction-paper crown his teacher made him on the first day of school. He sings the school’s “Unu Doi Trei” song to the dog and his stuffed mouse every night. He helps Lollipop recite the school blessing before dinner. With gusto. And he comes home with gallons liters of sand in his shoes from the playground. He is having fun.

Isn’t he?

We talk to him about how to make friends. Offer suggestions. Praise his efforts. We make such a big deal out of it that all conversations eventually end with this: “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” From an almost-four-year-old. (That sound? Is my heart cracking open.)

So we pretend it’s not a big deal. And focus on the things we see — the little girls in his class hugging him goodbye, the clay projects he proudly brings home, the letters and numbers and words he keeps learning.

Even still, there’s that image. The one that’s been planted in our mind. The one that’s taken root like a weed. The one we can’t see for ourselves because we’re not there: Giggles. Surrounded by kids. Playing alone.

But he’s having fun. Isn’t he?

Playing by himself is fine. Isn’t it?

We’re doing the right thing. Aren’t we?

How do you balance what the teacher says and what your child says? How much stock do you put in other people’s observations — and your own? How do you make decisions based on what you can’t see?


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  1. Stacia, this is a tough one.

    At his age, though, playing alone is perfectly normal, especially when you have the language barrier aspect. Maybe recess is his time to process the classroom stuff, and he just needs some time by himself?

    Go with your gut; let things be for awhile, asking gentle questions and staying in tune to his moods before and after school. Maybe send a friendly spy up to the school to see for yourselves exactly what’s happening at recess.

    And good luck. You’re entering into the sometimes difficult school-age years, which are ever so much harder b/c you have to start letting go, and it’s oh-so-tough.

  2. Miss M. played alone for quite some time. Or, she’d play “with” another kid but really, they’d be playing different things side-by-side. I think it’s normal, but I guess it’s more important to ask how YOU feel about it?

  3. Ah, yes. It begins. Figuring out what is normal and what is worrisome and will my baby be ok and oh my GOD will this turn into a blog post on his/her blog in 20 years about how I failed as a mother to spot this issue? Not that I’ve ever had that happen to me, or anything. No way. My kids never make me worry and fret and stay up late. 😉 Nothing is set in stone. Just remember that. I’m sure he’s ok, and I’m sure he is just needing some alone time. But remember that you can always make wild choices in their educational needs. Shoot, you moved to Romania for a year. I think you’re brave enough to raise 3 kids and do it the way that YOU think it needs to be done. Not the way that everyone else “says” it should be done.

  4. It’s so painful to think of our kids lonely and unhappy. I can’t imagine how hard the language barrier must be. Plus the newness. Can you get objective info from your daughter?
    Col has had an elevated stress level lately that he won’t talk to me about. It was eating me up until I realized whatever his current personal challenge is, I can’t fix for him. I can’t make it better, I can just love him and support him and watch as he evolves in his own time.
    Good luck with this Stacia.

  5. Maybe you can ask your American pediatrician; hopefully you have one you trust and know pretty well. I would be full of worry too; but at the same time if you were him, you probably wouldn’t think it was such a tragedy to play by yourself, by choice, at school. I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure lots of hugs and kisses at home can never hurt.

  6. Oh, Stacia, that’s so hard. Did he play with buddies at school last year? If he did, I bet he needs a little help breaking the ice. Ask the teacher for a couple suggestions and try to get some one on one time for him with a couple of friends. Some kids make friends more easily, some need support. Why do I suggest this? That’s what I did for Grace.

  7. This too shall probably pass. He’s had a great deal to adjust to in the last year, and he’s just a little boy. Everyone needs some time alone, and I imagine school with all the other changes could have been overwhelming. Don’t overreact; give him time and don’t worry. When you are able to do so, have one potential friend come for a visit.

  8. Oh lady! I am sorry. I don’t know what to say, nor do I have any sage advice, but I do know you are a remarkable woman and an extremely wonderful mama. I know you are doing what is best for Giggles, and I think you do, too. Think of this as a reminder. : )

  9. This is so hard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” In the end, all I’ve really been able to do is keep my eyes and ears open. And, wait.

  10. I’m sorry Stacia. That is a sad little image. BUT! I really think that playing alone is perfectly normal for a not-yet 4 year old. And I agree with the previous commenter who suggested that maybe he NEEDS this down-time to process everything that happened in the classroom (especially given the language difference – I would imagine that could be exhausting for a little brain to manage!)

  11. I think at this age it’s very hard for kids to play well with others so sometimes they choose to just play alone. It’s hard to share? and it’s hard to listen to other kids ideas. If it goes on when he’s 7/8? then I’d look into it more.

  12. My heart hurts. I hope he finds his buddies soon.

  13. Stacia, you are a wonderful mom and I am sure everything is okay! Plus he will be back here before you know it :-)! My first instinct when reading the post was, “I’d pray about it and then do as I feel led.” I was not going to share that until I sat down to do my Bible Study and the passage to ponder was James 1:5 which states, ” If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” I thought of the irony of how all that went together and had to share it. Hope it helps! Hang in there and enjoy Grammy Paw Paw time!!!

  14. This is a tough one. Li’l D’s two, so I haven’t had to face that yet–although I have had to face the sadness of seeing his daycare buddies dwindle, in this economy, from four to zero. This is a situation that saddens me much more than it probably ought.

    I digress!

    I know I liked playing alone. I love creating imaginary worlds and inhabiting those ones much more than actually playing with any non-sibling child around me. I’d wonder if that was what Giggle was looking for except for input from Lollipop. In light of that, I’d be inclined to believe the teacher.

    But this could just be a part of him figuring out who he is. Maybe he needs a little time out, to figure out what his balance is? It’s so hard to imagine what it must feel like, both to witness and to try figuring out how to respond. Good luck.

  15. This is so hard, Stacia. As parents, we hope that our kids will get along fine without us there guiding them, encouraging them, watching them. Yet when they’re not, we wonder if we should do something about it or expect our love and guidance even from afar will be enough to help them cope, deal, survive. More than that, when they don’t ask for our help, do we still try?

    If you figure this one out, let me know.

    For now, I will go with Rachel’s comment. Sounds good to me 🙂

  16. My heart is breaking, reading this. But I think, side-by-side play is still very normal at this age. My son was like this…and can still be like this from time to time, and he’s seven. Encouragement, focusing on the positive, praising his efforts in school — it’s a great start. Hang in there! xoxoxo

  17. I wouldn’t worry too much Stacia. I really think it is a phase or a preference and that he will eventually grow out of it. Hang in there.

  18. It sounds to me like you are doing all the right things. Makes sense to me that he would prefer to stick with the known — his beloved sister — if he has the option (at least until she’s had her fill). It is so hard though, isn’t it? Not being able to solve everything for our kids and not being able to know exactly what they are feeling. I’ve watched my Bub get rebuffed by classmates a bit at the park this past week. Nothing extreme, but still, I wanted to shake the kid who was doing it and say, “Don’t you know how awesome this boy, my boy, is?” I refrained.

  19. You have had a lot of really good comments….
    And I think the best thing you can do is to go with your gut. Maybe he does need some alone time. But, at the same time, this is hard for him. But, my 6 year old doesn’t always want to go to school either…because it is stressful. And it isn’t home. And mom isn’t there. And the rules are hard. You have to do what feels right for you. You know him better than anyone and sometimes you have to feel your way through when he needs a push and when he is doing the best he can.

  20. This parenting thing is hard. ((hugs))
    It is so heart breaking when you hear that little phrase “Can I stay home” Oh boy.

  21. I’m wondering if the reality is something in between, or if everything – what the teacher says, what Giggles says, and what you see are all part of the reality. Yes, there may be times, maybe even many times, that he is alone or rebuffs his classmates. But it looks like he is happy too and that the other children enjoy him. I’m beginning to notice now the different personalities among my son’s friends. My son is pretty extraverted in that he constantly needs to be around friends, while his best friend needs lots of time to recharge and, according to my son, will often ask to be by himself at recess. He is not unhappy, but it’s his happy medium. I also think it is pretty normal for children to say they don’t want to go to school once they are at home, or maybe to focus on an isolated incident, maybe, and say that all the kids were being mean. At 7 my son will still complain about his after school program and beg for me to take him out, but when it’s time to pick him up he never wants to leave! I remember going through each and every one of these experiences and like you really struggled to know what was real or what was not. I think you are doing the right thing by just paying attention and being there for him. My *guess* is that he is experiencing the normal life of a young child who’s stepping out into the real world, and sometimes it’s wonderful and fun, while other times something may not go the right way and he’s reacting to all of that. You are a great mom so I am sure you will not miss anything!

  22. Ugh. No good answer – I’m late to the game and there are lots of responses. I’m sure anything I would say is already there. But did anyone say maybe he just wants to be with you? The change is finally sinking in (kind of like the new baby that comes home and the older kid finally realizes it’s not going away)?

  23. I’m late to respond on this too, but it does look like you’ve gotten a lot of really good comments. I so hate this kind of thing. Nothing is worse than “mom pain.” The one idea I liked a lot was setting up a couple playdates for him with a friend or two that he may like. But again, he may be fine just playing on his own, unless he was really social before you left. The other big thing, as others mentioned, is listening to your gut and what you think he needs. I have found no better indicator than that and prayer. My daughter was miserable during first grade. I just mainly tried to spend time lying next to her at night on her bed for 10 or 20 minutes and we’d talk (if she wanted to and she led the conversation) or I’d just read to her. She did not like the year but she made it through well. I am so sorry.

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