Son: Dad, you look upset.
Me: Yes. Here, this cartoon will explain.
Son: Someone said something you don’t agree with?
Son: Well, just because you think they are wrong doesn’t mean they are. They are entitled to their opinion.
Me: Of course they are. But maybe let me try to explain why I think they’re wrong, OK? I think it’s important for you to understand me and think about what I’m saying, even you don’t end up agreeing.
Son: [Slighty annoyed.] OK, OK.
Me: I don’t really want to bring this up, because it’s a couple of years behind us now, but remember when you were at your last school, and you were having problems with some of the kids being hot and cold. Like being your friend one day and then locking you out the next day?
Son: [Looking down. Speaking quietly.] Yeah. [Irritated now.] Why are you bringing that up?
Me: Well, I have a question. Do you think those kids were cruel? Like really mean?
Son: [Still looking down. Upset.] No-o!
Me: Well, why do you think they did that?
Son: [Irritated.] I don’t know. [Pausing, then speaking more evenly.] I just felt left out a lot. We sometimes had fun and I felt like they were my friends. But other times they would talk about things I didn’t know about or didn’t care that much about, like “Transformers” or whatever.
Me: Do you think they felt more comfortable with each other, because they all had Russian parents. Like, closer to each other in some way, even if they didn’t realize it.
Son: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, I think that was part of it. They sometimes spoke in Russian to each other too. Or talked about places in Sheepshead Bay or someone’s birthday party or whatever. [Suddenly more forceful.] But that doesn’t mean all Russian people are like that.
Me: No, of course not. Most people are just more comfortable with what is more familiar to them. Like people they have a lot in common with. There is nothing wrong with that, but it can end up like it did for you, with one group sometimes leaving other people out in part because they just stay with what is most familiar and comfortable to them. They might not start out every day thinking, “We’re going to leave that other kid out of our game at recess today.” It just sort of happens because they act on their feelings without thinking about it much.
Son: So you’re saying it’s harder to include people more different from you. You have to think about it and work at it.
Me: Yes, exactly.
Son: But some kids are really mean too.
Me: Yes, that’s true. So there are a lot of different reasons people might leave other people out. Sometimes kids maybe just aren’t thinking much about it either way, and sometimes they are doing it more on purpose.
Son: Yeah. Like another thing that happens in school sometimes is the kids who are better at a game don’t want other kids to play, like basketball. Or kids who are really good at one subject get impatient when the teacher has to give extra help to some kids.
Me: So do you think your friends at school even noticed all the time what they were doing to you?
Son: [Looking down again. Upset.] No, maybe not.