I asked my five year old yesterday why she didn’t eat her snack at school.
The “none” box was highlighted next to how much she had eaten.
She told me because of the other kids. I probed a little more and got “because of the other kids” and “eww.” This didn’t completely make sense, so I emailed her teacher to inquire further and, boy, am I glad I did.
It turns out that the offered snack was a food that she loves (hummus), but a few of the other kids had distinctly groaned and made grossed out “eww” responses, so my child followed suit and did not eat it. Ironically, she thoroughly enjoyed the hummus that she shared with her ten-month-old baby sister for lunch after getting off of the school bus; me having no idea what had earlier transpired.
My husband was upset.
He was disturbed at the peer pressure and, more, at the simple revelation that, even this early in the game of growing up, a few kids can impact an entire group so strongly.
I wasn’t as upset, although I did find his thoughts more than valid.
Instead, I offered my daughter the story of when I was a couple of years older than she is now, and I brought yogurt to school in my lunch.
Apparently I hadn’t gotten the memo that only geeks ate yogurt, one of my favorite foods. I pretended to not like what my mom had lovingly packed. Down at the end of the table, however, was a friend eating half of a kiwi with the spoon that her own mom had packed for her. The other kids were also shaming her food choice and she told them it was delicious and that she felt sorry for them that they didn’t have any. I related this latter story to my husband and told him that most kids are not like she was, especially when as young as five years old.
By the time I got to high school, people had figured out that yogurt was indeed delicious. Similarly, my husband, was confused as to how kids in this day and age had not already been exposed to hummus. Yet the thing is, I bet many kids were like my own child: loving this food and pretending not to because of one or, perhaps, two vocal peers.
I challenged my daughter that she could have been a better example at the snack table by showing them how good hummus and carrots are. She looked at me like I was an alien and said, “Noooo.” I said, “Yeah, you’re right—I probably wouldn’t have eaten it either.”
Of course, now I would—I’ve grown into myself with confidence and a lack of concern for some things, but, as a kid, this is in the process of being shaped and developed.
And the reason I wasn’t upset, like my husband was, is simple: I saw this as a potentially positive experience for our family.
The fact that my daughter had the awareness to understand that she hadn’t eaten this food because of peer pressure—and then to relate this story directly to me—presented great potential for my helping her to navigate these kinds of experiences in general.
How many parents from her classroom knew that their child didn’t eat the snack that day because of peer pressure? (Because her teacher also told me that basically no one had because of these “ewww’s.”)
So I secreted away the knowledge that I might be able to help my daughter to better learn confidence because of our communication but, on top of this, I gleaned something even more important from this occurrence.
I learned that my daughter feels comfortable enough with me, and feels a lack of judgment from me, so that she can share her feelings and growing-up experiences. Isn’t that the most important thing, especially in kids this young?
I want my children, more than anything in this world, to share with me who they are, how they feel, what they think and what happens to them as they navigate life. My five year old did that yesterday.
So I decided not to overly assess the situation and her reaction to it, like my husband began to. Rather, I dog-eared this day as one that my daughter had chosen to let me in; laughing with me over something that she doesn’t even completely understand yet how important what happened is.
The first time my daughter ever ate hummus and carrots was a peer-pressure situation too.
We were at a friend’s house and four other kids were eating it, so she did. Peer pressure isn’t always bad and, equally, what happened yesterday at school was just as much about how she can come home and talk to her mommy about her day.
Since she’s only five and we have a long, long way to go in this intricate mother-daughter dance, I’ll temporarily pause here and appreciate our communication.
After all, I think one of the best ways to develop confidence is to be able to fully express our feelings, perceptions and concerns with the people who make up our world.
Photo: Flickr/AGC Photo Girls Enjoy Lunch.