Like most parents, I silently worry; will my kids have good friends? With our previous children, it was more of a passing worry. With our second youngest entering kindergarten, it has become a fear. The big difference is that he simply struggles to understand social cues. Obviously, any kid his age would, but our little guy has bigger challenges than most.
So, when I drop him off at the bus in the morning, I watch carefully to see how he interacts with the other kids in line and how they respond to him.
For example, earlier this winter when he was running to bus, he slipped and bit it hard on the ice. Honestly, it was kind of funny. Normally I would have laughed to myself, but this time I sat up in panic. What would the other kids do? Would they help him up? Would they laugh at him? Fortunately, things resolved quickly, he wasn’t hurt, no one seemed to notice, and everyone, including my son, scuttled off to school. All was well.
Then, a few weeks ago the kids were already lined up when he jumped out of the car but, instead of going to the back of the line, he just went right to the front. A bigger kid didn’t like this injustice and gave him a shove. The issue was resolved before I even opened my door, but I could see that my little guy was pretty upset. Since then I’ve been reminding him every morning that when he lines up that he needs to go to the end of the line if he gets there last.
It’s a small thing, but even understanding the rules of line-ups are not easy for a kid who struggles to navigate an increasingly complex world of relationships.
Yesterday something magical happened. The bus arrived, my little dude gave me a hug and kiss and ran out to the bus line. He forgot the whole end-of-the-line thing and just slid himself in about mid-line. I knew this could be trouble, so I opened my door to remind him to go to the back. In reply to my call, the blessed neighbour kid, only a grade above our son, said, “It’s ok, I don’t mind if he cuts in front of me.”
I could have wept. I was so grateful this boy had extended the simplest kindness to my son. It gave me hope that our guy might have an advocate in school, maybe even a friend.
The thing is, very likely, it will take other kids reaching out to our boy if he is going to have those kinds of relationships. He might try to make friends, but I don’t know if he will ever satisfy the social rules of school boys and girls. Theirs may be the kind of friendship that is costly, but my hope is that if a kid can make room for him in the bus line, then maybe others will make room in their lives for him.
Our boy is super special, and I love him so much! But the world is a hard place. So, if I might be somewhat self-serving here for a moment, may I ask you to talk to your children about being kind? Talk to them about letting others go first, and how to be friends with kids who don’t understand all the rules, or who don’t know how to be a friend themselves.
I will do my part to help him as best I can to remember that the last person to the bus line must go to the back. But when he forgets… please help your children to be patient.
And to my neighbour kids, thank you from the bottom of my daddy-heart! I thanked God for you yesterday!
Thom Van Dycke has worked with children and youth since 2001 and is a passionate advocate for healthy foster care. Together with his wife, since 2011, they have welcomed 30 foster children into their home. In 2017, Thom Van Dycke was trained as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.