At the beginning of preschool last year, Giana came home sullen and quiet every day for almost two weeks. She is the extrovert of my three children and her full-face smile is one of her best attributes. Her radiating smile was gone; something was wrong. It was her second year in a school she loved, and her all-day nursery program went famously the year prior.
Her teachers confidently reported everything was well in class and Giana would only tell me she had a bad day. One day she reluctantly told me she didn’t want to go to school anymore and I decided we weren’t moving a muscle until I had answers. Through tears she explained the rest of her classmates already had friends to play with and when she asked to play, everyone said no during her two breaks. This was so traumatic to her, it was ruining her full experience of school. I was baffled by the idea that my daughter was having trouble making friends. My nerves shook at the thought my little girl felt isolated.
I realized my own decisions had made it difficult for her to build strong friendships in school. When Sofia started school two years ahead of Giana, I avoided invitations for ‘playdates’ and she never had an issue making friends. I have three children who are surrounded by plenty of family friends and younger children to play, plus demanding extracurricular schedules don’t really offer time for much else.
It is also something unfamiliar, growing up in a Cuban-Irish household with two siblings; I never had a playdate in my life. I had never even heard the word until I had children. I did take Sofia to school birthday parties those first two years, then dwindled down when it came to another class of nineteen kids. As I really analyzed, it became perfectly clear that children would play with others who were familiar to them as they grew into their own personalities. Playdates and birthday parties facilitate that very familiarity and I had averted them.
I encouraged Giana to include herself during playtime and told her that asking permission was unnecessary. The next day, I met with Giana’s teachers to share the situation and asked for their support to encourage her and the class to play inclusively. I had some changes of my own to make as well; I needed to commit to the birthday parties (as repetitive as they may be) and to arrange playdates. Giana’s beautiful smile came back, and it was such an interesting lesson in parenting.
I have three children in school full time now, and although there are almost sixty birthday parties a year, we try to attend as many as possible. I also have tried to keep playdates scheduled for the kids and my husband did his first just last month to help out the team. When it comes to parenting, it really isn’t about what is most convenient or familiar for us, and taking the extra time to support the socialization of our children is crucial.
The key: Friendships are as important to a childhood as education and family. A child may need support making friends regardless of birth order, psychological disposition or age.
Trina M. Fresco, Vice President of Operations for the IT firm smarTECHS.net since 2007 and NBCLatino Contributor, was named one of “50 Powerful Minority Women in Business” by MEA Magazine. Fresco is the Chair of the Chicago Foundation for Women Investment Subcommittee and serves on a number of additional boards & committees. Fresco resides Chicago with her husband, George and their three children Sofia, Giana and Lorenzo. You can contact her at FrescoRealTalk@gmail.com or on Twitter @trinafresco.