My son's admirers at school - teachable moment?
November 5, 2015 5:51 PM   Subscribe

My 5-year-old son has been getting notes and gifts from classmates who seem to be quite fond of him. Now what?

One day the boy comes home with a nice picture of a boy and a girl and a house, with a little note reading "I Love You". The next day, he comes home with another picture. Today he comes home with a little toy.

He tells us that the pictures came from one little girl, and the toy came from another one.
He's not particularly excited about the presents or the classmates, but acknowledges on his own, that these were very nice things his classmates did for him and that they are very kind.

Normally, if he receives a gift of some sort, I would tell him to write a nice note saying thank you, or to acknowledge the act some other way, but in this case, I suspect that we're dealing with a crush on the part of his classmates, and I don't want to do something that will lead these little ones on!

But at the same time, I don't want my son to take people for granted, but maybe i'm reading into this too much - they're only 5 for crying out loud!

But then I think it's never too early to teach kids how to treat each other well, especially when it comes to feelings - if he has a good foundation, this will help him when he gets older, i say to myself.

So what do I do?
- Just talk about how the gifts from his classmates were very nice gestures, but not reciprocate?
- Tell him to reciprocate in a small way?

I don't know - maybe i'm reading too much into this - it's just that I see him getting so much attention and I want him to be gracious about it, and not take anyone for granted. Everyone' jokes and says "oh, he's going to be a heartbreaker", and I am thinking to myself "oh no, he's going to be a jerk", And I'm sure I'm projecting my own skeletons and regrets and jealousy onto this too, so I don't even trust myself or my thoughts.

posted by bitteroldman to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There's no "leading on" when you're five.

If he wants to reciprocate by painting a nice picture or whatever in return, that would be very sweet. I wouldn't make him do it if the whole thing makes him uncomfortable.

I'm not crazy about the idea that now you have to be in the business of buying toys for other kids at school who are bringing him presents? Having a crush or a special friend at that age, and maybe drawing a picture or giving them an extra turn on the swings, was pretty typical when I was a kid. But gifts? Could you discourage this sort of thing with their parents?
posted by Sara C. at 5:58 PM on November 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

My son is the 5 yr old making 'cards' and 'art' for every other student in his class. Occasionally he will get a card or drawing from another student, but it doesn't bother him a bit when he doesn't- in fact, he's never once mentioned even wanting anything in return. He gives these little gifts because he's thinking of his school friends and wants to be kind. I know my kid is not your kid's classmates, but I'm telling you this because I think you're overthinking this. It's just a thing that 5 yr olds do. Teach your son to say thank you and possibly compliment the gift and then worry no more.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:14 PM on November 5, 2015 [29 favorites]

I should have added that the teachable moment here is the lesson of receiving a gift graciously.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:15 PM on November 5, 2015 [17 favorites]

Ask him if he remembered to say thank you.

For gifts given in person, that's mostly all that is required in a North American non-First-Nations context, which I'm guessing this is.

If the toys are excessive you can treat it like a fun loan. "Oh and on Monday you can give it back to Ellie, won't that be fun?" Or talk to the parents if you're concerned.

The girls are doing it because they are entering the age of gender essentialism and have already picked up that a good girl is a generous girl in both bestowing love and kisses and giving precious things.

You can help your boy develop generosity But encouraging him to be generous in his own way, which may or may not be at school. (My boys are generous at home and with neighbours, less so in the jungle of groups.)

What you're talking about though is reciprocity And personally, while I see its value and do social calculus myself regularly, I am not that concerned with trying to teach my kids to make those kinds of spontaneous daily interactions "equal" -- they can be very manipulative. I teach that more around birthday parties and formal gift giving and things like family chore trading.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:17 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

Sorry -- the girls are doing it MORE. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 6:18 PM on November 5, 2015

You're looking into this too much. Especially if this is pictures drawn and a "throwaway" level toy.
My kid is nearly 7 and at his school the teachers/aides have a "no boyfriends/girlfriends" rule but it still happens. It seems that there are ~3 boys that are "targets" of this out of 25 boys total and ~10/25 girls that are interested in doing this boyfriend/girlfriend stuff. On the other hand my kid went through a phase last year where he liked giving gifts to people too and it was not romantic. And other kids draw pictures for him at least a few times a month. Getting a read for the overall social situation is one of the reasons why being around for drop off/pick up/parent association/volunteering is a good idea.
I would probably drop a quick email to his teacher who certainly knows what's going on a lot more than you do, and say something like "Hi Mrs. Whatever. Sean has been coming home with small gifts from Mary and Sarah. I assume this isn't that big of a deal, but wanted to get your read on the situation." It is possible that the classroom has a no gifts or something policy, so the teacher can deal with it. Or at least s/he will now be more aware of what is going on. Also at my kid's school they are fairly strict about no one bringing toys to school anyway.
And as far as talking to your son about it, I'd say something like "It is really nice that Mary gave you this toy. Please make sure you say thank you like you always would, but it is important that you make sure that she really wants to give you that toy."
posted by k8t at 6:21 PM on November 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Beyond encouraging him to say "thank you", there's not much more to be done. Rest easy in the fact that his peers like him...

Don't read much into the actions of a 5 year old, they are a couple of years away from abstract thinking... this is pretty concrete "I like you" stuff...
posted by HuronBob at 6:58 PM on November 5, 2015

My kindergartener loves to make this type of card for her classmates. She definitely doesn't have a crush on anyone and doesn't expect anything in return; it's just her way of expressing friendship. She can't spell many words, so a lot of the cards say "I love you." Occasionally she asks if she can give one of her toys to a friend. (She passed out a lot of well-loved My Little Ponies at preschool last year when we decluttered the bedroom.) She has also brought home a few toys. If it's a family I know, I usually mention it to the mom the next time I see her, just to make sure it's ok or see if it should come back home.

In short: it's normal. Don't worry. Just encourage him to say thank you & be gracious. Don't feel the need to reciprocate gifts or write thank you notes.
posted by belladonna at 7:10 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Everyone here is so wise. There was one little girl in my daughter's pre-school class who loved to give away little toys and things. I always insisted that mine give them back and she would get irritated with me. "No. She gave it to me! Really!" Occasionally, I would see the little girl and say, "That was so nice of you to give L the little toy, would you like it back?" And she would say, "Nope!" And then I asked her mom about this and she said, "She loves to give gifts and we have too much stuff."
posted by amanda at 8:29 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yep. Keep in mind that we are totally living at the ass end of the industrial revolution and the world is packed full of crap and junk and toys and stuff. 10 times more than we were kids and like a 1000 times more than when our parents and grandparents were. For kids to swap this plastic landfill stuffing back and forth as if it were nearly valueless is completely normal.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:28 PM on November 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

It is awesome that he acknowledges on his own that the giver is doing a nice thing for him and showing him kindness. He should, in return, be kind, including thanking them. (Do unto others, golden rule, etc.)

Do your kiddo and society an ENORMOUS favor and refuse to quasi-sexualize this as "crushes" and "he's a heartbreaker" and the like. He'll get plenty of socialization along these lines via osmosis, but right now you've got the opportunity to instill that a generosity of spirt does not have gender-specific rules.
posted by desuetude at 11:33 PM on November 5, 2015 [15 favorites]

On the whole I think you're best to let your kids manage their own relationships, even at this age, unless it's clear there are problems. That's usually the most effective way for them to learn. Parenthood is a process of gradually stepping back out of the picture.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I suspect that we're dealing with a crush on the part of his classmates,

Why? Little kids love to show off their creations. They like to share. There's nothing weird here except the socialized reaction you're having. Your son has nice classmates. He thanks them and acknowledges they're doing nice things.

If he wants to, he can draw something too, if that's his thing. Or reciprocate in whatever way is natural for him. In that way, classmates become friends. If he doesn't reciprocate, they remain classmates. Neither are wrong and neither are anything you have to manage for him.
posted by headnsouth at 2:51 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Different answer here. My youngest was nicknamed "The Mayor" by his preschool teachers because the other kids all wanted to play with him. He'd get notes and toys and stuff also. They had to come up with a rotation system for sitting times because kids would actually cry if they didn't get to sit next to him.

I'm not saying this is what's happening for your kid, but if it is I'd like to pass along two things I learned:

1. Keep an eye on him getting stressed being the object of so much popularity. Kinetic 3 couldn't handle kids fighting over him, so it was great when his teachers stepped in and created an equitable seating system.

2. OMG It's so cool when you see your kid turn into the person they are. Kinetic 3 (now 17) is a monster in a million ways, but he has this uncanny ability to befriend everyone. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in "The Tipping Point." Your son is probably a Connector, which is an amazing quality.
posted by kinetic at 3:24 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the input! I'm very relieved to know that all this is normal behaviour and can very well be a gesture of friendship - it was the "I love you" that threw me off.

My main concern was if and/or how to reciprocate, and if there would be any hurt feelings involved. And you have all provided some valuable insight and advice.

For sure, I don't want to force him to act in ways that he is not comfortable with. I agree, it's important to be able to accept something and enjoy it, and not always think about reciprocating.

And for sure, I do need to step back and let him work things out, but I just didn't want him to take these acts of kindness for granted, and he seems to be doing a pretty good job so far.

So crisis averted - thanks all!
posted by bitteroldman at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

> it was the "I love you" that threw me off.

Yeah, fair enough, but I think there's a lot of different...microcultures?...around what "I love you" means and in what situations it can be used. Also, the kid could be just imitating what they see on TV or have seen other people do.

Personally, I was raised to reserve the word "love" for family or Very Very Particular People, sort of hierarchical status pronouncement. I expanded and broadened my own definition of "love" considerably and invited more people to the party. But then I have some very casual acquaintances who will toss out a "love you" in passing, apparently apropos of nothing -- it took me awhile to stop being taken aback and grok that they were expressing something more like "I am having warm and fuzzy feelings about you for being part of this moment in time."
posted by desuetude at 11:05 AM on November 6, 2015

I don't have much to add except that I absolutely loved giving people art and things when I was little, for lots of reasons. I didn't expect them to give anything back, I just liked to do it because I liked them and they enjoyed my drawings and it was nice.

I kind of still do,too.

It's not bad. Don't worry.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:49 AM on November 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

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