My four-year-old daughter, Ellie has this incredible talent of connecting with people. She does this thing where she asks her people about themselves, until she can say with happy conviction, “We are twins in that way, I love ______ too!” Everyone adores Ellie because Ellie finds something to adore in everyone.
When we went to her Pre-K parent teacher conference her teacher talked about a few academics she could work on, like calling rectangles “building blocks” and skipping the numbers “16” and “18” when counting to 20.
Then Ellie’s teacher smiled and said, “But here’s the thing that is so fascinating about Ellie; she doesn’t need a group. Most kids make a friend and then cling to them and can’t be brave without them. Ellie is friends with just about everybody, yet she can function in a group or be on her own perfectly fine. She’s just herself all the time”.
I love that about her.
On top of being the little girl who calls rectangles “building blocks” Ellie is also a big sister to Sam.
My son, Sam, is two years old and is completely rough and muddy-cheeked. He dubbed himself “half-man, half-baby” as soon as he learned to talk. I have never met a more physical person in all my life. He loves conquering things. He’s amazing at stuff and happens to be enormous for a two year old. Kids typically think he’s a four-year old despite his obvious baby face and lack of four year old etiquette.
Being mistaken for a much older child comes with it’s fair share of challenges and disagreements. The thing about two-year-olds is that they don’t have the ownership concept down yet. Sam will just walk up to a group of kids in a sand box and take their shovel.
Sam gets defensive when a big kid comes and takes that shovel back… shoot, sometimes misunderstandings end up in pushing matches. If Sam is met with hostility, hostility will be returned ten fold. Sam never backs down from a fight, no matter how big his opponent.
Sam gets excluded a lot. It’s only natural to assume he’s a bully. When in actuality, he is just a really large two-year-old.
My first reaction was to scold Sam for being offensive, then go to the child who was now excluding Sam from the activity or group and explain how Sam was only two and just learning. I would tell the other kids that it would be nice if they would include Sam.
That worked okay I guess, it did stop the fighting but they still didn’t want to be friends. Kids ignored him.
I found myself having to explain Sam to people everywhere we went, and all the while, Ellie had made “a new best friend” and was playing happily.
Then one day, I explained Sam to Ellie. I told her about what was happening to Sam when he tried to “play” with other kids. I asked her if there was anything she could do to help.
That’s right, I went to my four-year-old for help.
I didn’t really expect much to change but things did change. Ellie stuck with Sam everywhere he went. She tagged along as she proclaimed to new friends, “We are twins in that way!” She was also there with Sam when the big kids got frustrated with his two year old antics.
I listened from a discreet distance as Ellie said things like, “Don’t be mean to my brother, he is just two and he is my friend”. The kids around her always seem to have the same response, “Wow, he is a big two year old!” Then they turn to Sam and say, “How old are you?”
“Two” he says.
Usually they just keep playing together as a group. Sam is included and I marvel at my offspring once again.
Sometimes the kids don’t want to play with a big two year old despite Ellie’s request to “be nice”. The times the kids are just being hurtful, Ellie has started saying, “Look, if you can’t be nice to my brother, I’m not playing anymore”. And then she won’t. She’ll grab Sam’s hand and say, “let’s go Sam”.
I love that. I love them together. I know some might think to themselves, “Well, he needs to learn to take care of himself” or “Stop coddling him” or something like that.
But I don’t think that’s what we’re doing here. I think the feelings of being excluded and friendless are far worse than feelings of being protected and loved by your sibling. I think having someone insist on your inclusion is far less emotionally scarring then being dubbed the “monster” in every child’s game of chase.
I also think Ellie’s gift for connection is being channeled in the best possible way. Isn’t it great to have another incredible person in the world who is unafraid to stand up for injustices? Then practice mercy and inclusion rather than fear and exclusion?
I know Sam and I are grateful for her goodness.
Imagine how powerful it would have been for you to have somebody there for you on your worst day. Maybe you were lucky enough to have had someone there for you when you needed it most. Do you wish they wouldn’t have been there to be your friend? To stick up for you?
Of course not.
Often, we credit them for our survival… saying things like, “I don’t know what I would have done without you” or “I couldn’t have made it through ____ without you”.
I’m impressed with the new depth of Ellie and Sam’s friendship and the carry over of love that has come to our home. Ellie seems to be more patient when Sam steals her Barbie and Sam seems to be more eager to be kind.
Sam has become softer, less defensive and more likely to say, “We’re twins in that way!”
I think it will make all the difference.