Oh No

I Was Not Ready For Elementary School Boy Drama

I thought elementary social conflicts would be less problematic for my son. Wow, was I wrong.

Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

It’s 2 p.m., and my elementary school boys are just getting home. My second grader barrels in and shoots me a smile as he grabs a snack and heads to the living room. And then my fourth grader arrives. He is visibly frustrated as he throws his backpack on the bench before draping his upper body onto the kitchen island in defeat. “Today sucked,” he says. Before I have time to reprimand him for his language, he continues: “Some kids are jerks!” Ugh. This has been an after-school conversational theme since the start of this school year. My once socially easygoing little dude is now constantly getting his feelings hurt and getting frustrated with his peer relationships. And I really feel like it’s come out of nowhere.

I’ve got two boys and two girls — the boys came first. And so I naively thought I would be spared the friend (and frenemy) drama until a little later in motherhood. Gender stereotypes are typically not something I acknowledge too deeply, and I’m not proud of this, but I admit it: I thought elementary school social conflicts would be a little less problematic for my son. And wow, was I wrong. All of a sudden, at 9, his friendships feel a little more difficult and a lot of the social interactions seem to bum him out. And it’s feeling hard to navigate.

Most of the drama centers around sports. My son is in a hyper-competitive, athletic friend group, and this year he’s beginning to understand his spot in the sports pecking order. So recess games, picking teams, and lunch table comments all lead to some very hurt feelings for my emotional little dude. Organized practices and games can be upsetting too, as he often expresses frustration with teammates and friends about their level of competitiveness or comments about his performance.

Then there is the general teasing — the kind that is just woven into the interactions of many young boys without intentional malice or forethought. I think these comments are often meant to be funny, or form connections, but they can be hard for a sensitive recipient like my son. Silly comments about his clothes or haircut feel hurtful and leave him questioning his friendships.

So, currently his outlook on his friendships changes daily. I’m watching him take a lot personally, and I see him trying to figure out what relationships work for him, and where he fits amongst his peers. His feelings get hurt, he gets annoyed, he feels left out, and he has big opinions on all of it. I think a more veteran mom would call these growing pains. And boy, are they hard to watch.

As his mom I want him to feel happy, comfortable, and supported all the time. I want him to feel welcomed by every friend group and appreciated by his classmates. I want everyone to pick him first, laugh loudly at his jokes, and compliment his kindness. Because when I see an ounce of disappointment or sadness on his face, I feel it in my bones. And I would do anything to take it away.

But of course, none of that is (or should be) possible. Because these growing pains will serve him well: They will teach him necessary life lessons and help him navigate future social situations. I have a feeling this roller-coaster ride is going to be long for both of us, and we’re just getting started. But we’ve got to live through it.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.