“You must be so busy, with four kids!” People say when I introduce my family. And I look at them, thinking, “Well, no, not really.” (Minus the doctor and specialist appointments).
You see, until this year, there haven’t been extracurricular activities. It was enough to take two older girls to the park 3 days a week and not have them throw a rock at another child or eat wood chips. It’s not that we didn’t get out in the community, it’s just that I decided pretty much right away that it wasn’t going to work for our family. Mostly because I couldn’t handle the stress of my own expectations for the experience.
Which is why joining Girl Scouts this fall is still throwing me for a loop …4 months later.
The hardest part is watching my tween drowning socially with the other girls. She’s not just a young 10, she’s a young 6 in a 10 year old’s body. She’s physically developing like the others. She knows the songs on the radio like the others. She’s in their class at school. But she’s not like the others. They know it. She knows it. And I know it.
That’s the worst part. I know her. I see all the ways she’s missing social cues, rebuffing attempts at friendship, severing herself from the group dynamic. It’s her bipolar moods – the flares of paranoia, the rapid irritability, the stunted emotional responses.
I want to jump in and smooth things out for her. To explain her to the other girls. To roll up my sleeves and help give her a fighting chance at this tween-girl dynamic that makes even typically-developing girls’ (and moms’!) hair stand on end at times. In some instances at the meetings, I just can’t help it, and I pepper the night’s conversation with questions or ideas to find common ground between her and the other girls.
Oh, the energy that requires! And that’s only 1.5 hours out of the 30 she spends with her peers each week!
Not being able to sit back and watch, I created a job I could do instead! It’s a way to support her without crowding out the normal, organic relationships between the girls: I became the troop’s game coordinator. This serves two purposes: it gives me something else to focus on (so needed!) and allows me to strategically plan things I know will BOTH stretch my daughter’s skills and allow the girls to build friendships through common experiences. We’ve done team-building games of scooping colored pom-poms into bins, filled out “Who Has This Characteristic/Skill” pages about everyone in the group, written a troop song and jingle together, and played charades with favorite movie characters. Brainstorming ideas and creating games got me out of my “poor her” mindset and back into the “yes, there IS something we can do about this” mode.
It’s continued to be a bumpy experience for my daughter – and me. She puts in effort, then doesn’t. I get hopeful, then frustrated. Having typically-developing children as well, I know at least that tug-of-war is normal. And now I funnel energy in to planning games and art projects instead of worrying.
What role do you play with your child’s peers and social development? What has worked and what hasn’t?