My son was just 4 years old. It was his first year in preschool and the very first week.
I got a phone message from a mom inviting him over to play with her son. “This is wonderful!” I thought. “He is being sought out and may already have a friend at school.” I immediately shared the good news with him and got back an equally immediate, “I don’t want to go.”
Yikes! I thought, “He just does not have the maturity to understand the importance of having good friends at school.” So, I explained to him that while his sisters also had felt a little intimidated by all the new people at school, he would feel more comfortable after he got to know some of them better. He looked at me unmoved and expressionless and said flatly “I don’t want to play with him.”
Hmph! I thought, “This is not right. Is he socially inept?” but he was so decided… how to overcome this? “How about this?” I asked, “Would you feel more comfortable if he came over to our house to play?” The reply, “I don’t want to play with him.” That’s it. No explanation (even at 4 he was a man of few words).
At that point I felt he was not being very kind and so, being the adult, I didn’t listen. We found ourselves entertaining the boy two days later. We began with lunch and the guest flatly refused everything I offered him to eat. He didn’t like it. Then, he wanted to play on the trampoline so I sent them outside. Three minutes later my son marched through the kitchen and calmly stated, “I don’t want to play with him.” I sent him back outside and told him, “That is not how we treat guests.” Three minutes later, repeat scenario, but with more emotion “I don’t want to play with him.”
Red flag. This was not like my son. “Okay.” I said. “Please play with him one more time. Mommy will watch from the laundry room.” And I did. My son joined the little boy on the trampoline and within seconds the boy pushed him down. My son, stood up, turned and looked dead at me in the window. Before I could make a move, the boy pushed him down again. This time, my son stood up, his back to me, and literally threw the kid down. He then calmly marched into the house, walked right past me and said “I told you I didn’t want to play with him.”
He was right. I didn’t want him to play with him either. I should have listened.
This is an example of “icky borders”. My son knew instinctively, even though he couldn’t put it into words, that this play date was not a good idea. For more on this icky border concept read How Strong Are Your Child’s Icky Borders?