Can we give a present to Ariana, too?

This year, Sonya wanted to buy her best friend, Jaya, something for Christmas. She said she would use her own money, and I said that was fine (although she said she wanted to spend like $70, and I said no to that).

After we had everything ordered and ready, she bashfully came up to me and said, “can we get something for Ariana, too?” “You don’t have any money left, sweetie,” I said, like the good frugalist that I (sometimes) am.

“I know,” she said, looking down at her toes. “But I realized I don’t want to leave Ariana out.”

I listened to a podcast this week about kids and popularity (Dear Anxiety – it’s pretty great, especially if you have kids, or anxiety, or kids with anxiety, or exist in the world). I can taste it, how much it hurt to be left out of things in fourth grade. What they said on the podcast was not the standard “eh, popularity is stupid, if they don’t like you it’s their problem,” but more along the lines of “popularity, and how kids relate to other people in childhood, affects their relationships for the rest of their lives.” They also said what I know in the depth of my bones to be true: that social relationships in early adolescence are important and hard. And matter.

And one more thing: you can’t (and probably shouldn’t try to) make your kid prettier, or funnier, or smarter just to be more popular. But there are things that can be taught, and those things turn out to be important over a lifetime. What these podcasters focused on was “likeability.” If you can teach your child likeability skills, that will help them to succeed for all of time in myriad ways, and it will also make these popularity pressures just a little easier to navigate. One factor of likeability? Inclusiveness.

The 13-year-old daughter of a friend of mine ran away from home a few weeks ago because of everyday, low level, relentless bullying. This chills me to the bone, both at the pain that causes a child to feel that unloved and the other children’s callousness, which I think it is shockingly easy for kids to do – to leave others out. I know through my research what happens to kids once they have nobody looking out for them, and this very real very awful consequence of being left out cannot be ignored.

As much as it is really important for kids to learn to cope with bullying and teasing, I also think it’s critical to develop children’s abilities to fight the urge to be cool by being cruel, to feel good by making other people feel bad. My kids haven’t (yet) been subject to bullying, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a part of their world. I can’t stand the thought of my kids on either side of the bullying equation.

I want to teach Sonya to be smart with her money. But truthfully, who gives a crap about money. I have a sweet, empathetic kid who wants her friends to feel loved. I ordered a present for Ariana, too, and for the other girl on their soccer team while I was at it. I’m not actually a very good frugalist, but I think I’m turning out to be an okay parent.

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