There are many concerns a parent has when a child enters primary school. There is the “stress” of the new amount of school work to be done, there is the adaptation to what is now a much bigger school compound compared to a preschool, and there is so much more.
By God’s grace, my firstborn, Phoebie, has been enjoying her new experience in primary school. She is adapting well to the school work and making new friends. Every day, as I fetch her from school, I hear about what she does and some of the parts of school that excite her.
I am thankful for these sharing sessions in the car because it is through these sessions that I get to know her friends’ names, Phoenie’s favourite food in the canteen and so on.
It was also during one such session that Phoebie told me about a classmate whom she regards as a good friend. Let’s call this friend, Edward.
“… And so I spent $1.20 on my food today,” Phoebie was telling me.
“I see. Did you go to the bookshop again?” I asked, knowing that she has been “window shopping” at the school’s bookshop. I had told her a few times before, that if she needed or wanted anything, I would bring her to buy the things outside because some things are overpriced in the school bookshop. I told her about how I used to spend money at the bookshop when I was in primary school, only to realise i didn’t really need a lot of those things that I bought.
“I did. And I gave Edward 4 $.020 at the bookshop,” Phoebie said.
A little siren went off in my head. Did this Edward ask Phoebie for money? Was it extortion? What happened????
“Why did you give Edward money? You gave him $0.80?” I probed. $0.80 was what was left of Phoebie’s pocket money after she bought her food.
“Uh huh. I wanted to be kind to Edward, so I gave him my $0.80. The origami paper cost $0.80,” Phoebie explained.
Later in our conversation, I found out that today wasn’t the first time that Edward had asked her to buy origami paper for him. There was another time that Edward had seen Phoebie window shopping in the bookshop, and had asked Phoebie to buy origami paper for him.
On the one hand, I didn’t want Phoebie to think that being kind is wrong. On the other hand, I wanted her to understand that some people take advantage of kindness.
“Why did Edward need you to pay for him?” I asked.
“Edward doesn’t have pocket money. His mummy packs a snack for him for recess every day. So when he asked me to buy the paper for him, I did,” answered Phoebie.
Different kinds of explanation flew through and around my head. How should I explain this to my sweet daughter who just wanted to be nice to her friend?
“Phoebie, there are many ways to be kind to your friends, and I love that you are kind and wanted to do something nice for Edward. However, I want you to know something. You do not buy things for your friends just because your friends ask you to,” I tried to explain.
“Edward’s mum does not give him pocket money and it could be for different reasons. Some parents don’t want their children not to spend money because they worry that the children don’t know how to manage the money, so they pack a snack for them. There are other parents who may not earn a lot of money, so packing a snack for the children is a better way to save money. I don’t know about Edward’s family, but there must be a reason why Edward’s mummy packs a snack for him.”
“Now, if it was your friend’s birthday and you wanted to be nice and buy a present for him, sure, please go ahead. But you do not buy something for your friend just because your friend asks you to. Do you remember that when we were in Japan, when we were in Osaka, Didi, you and I were waiting for Papa on the bridge?” I wanted to use an example to explain to her.
“Uh huh,” said Phoebie.
“We saw a homeless man sitting in the cold and was asking people for money. Instead of giving him money, Papa went to buy food for him and bought a pair of gloves for the man. Do you know why?”
Phoebie shook her head, looking confused.
“This is because it was a cold day, and we knew that a pair of gloves would keep the man warm. Food would feed him so that he would not be hungry. There are some homeless people who may not use the money that people give them to buy what they need most, which is food and something to keep warm in winter. Some people end up buying bad drinks and drugs,” I knew this probably was not a close comparison but that was the only thing I could think of at that time.
“Phoebie,” I said again, “If Edward didn’t have food to eat or money to buy food, you can give him a treat or tell your teacher that Edward needs help because he doesn’t have food or money to buy food. But it sounds like Edward has food and just wants you to buy something for him because he doesn’t have money to buy. Tell me, what does he do with the origami paper after you buy for him?”
“Edward folds the paper and then give to other friends. Some of my friends told me that Edward likes to waste the paper,” Phoebie replied.
“So you see? Edward doesn’t need the paper, he just asked you to buy it because he knew you will say yes. And then after that, he used the paper to fold and give other friends. Did he give any to you or thank you?” I asked.
“He only gave me a few. No, he didn’t thank me,” Phoebie looked visibly upset.
My head was racing and searching for an answer that would explain better to Phoebie.
“Phoebie,” I said, “There is being kind and there is being taken advantage of. It sounds to me like Edward is taking advantage of your kindness. You know the ATM machine that Papa and Mama go to to get money? That is what Edward is doing, you are his ATM,” I said.
“Instead of giving him money when he asks you to him, there are other ways to be kind to him. Can you think of other ways you can be kind to him?” I wanted Phoebie to think through this issue, but I could tell that she was a little overwhelmed.
She took a while and said, “I don’t know.”
“Well,” I said, “I told you that I went to buy origami paper for you today, right?”
“Instead of giving him the money when he asks you for it, you can share some paper with him,” I said.
Phoebie looked like she was thinking.
“Now, if Edward comes to you tomorrow and say, ‘Phoebie, can you buy the paper for me? I don’t have money.’ What do you say?” I asked. I wanted to role play with her to prepare her to handle a similar situation.
“My mummy said I cannot buy for you,” Phoebie said. Okay, so she decided to use me as the reason. -_- Still, it’s a start.
“What if Edward says ‘If you don’t buy for me, then you are not my friend.’ ?” I asked again. I wanted to make sure Phoebie was ready for all scenarios, especially when kids of her age has this “friend and don’t friend ” thing.
“But my mummy said I cannot,” Phoebie repeated.
“And then, you can tell him, ‘How about I share some of my origami paper with you?'” I tried to help her.
“Okay,” said Phoebie.
I knew she was confused by this whole matter. She thought she was being kind but it turned out to be “wrong”.
Phoebie asked if I could buy a packet of origami paper for Edward like how I bought the paper for her. I told her that I would check with her teacher. I wanted to make sure that I found out more about this boy before I did.
After checking with Phoebie’s teacher, I found out more about the matter. Phoebie’s teacher had seen Edward with origami paper and was surprised because she knew that Edward’s Mother did not give him pocket money. It was then Edward admitted that he had asked Phoebie to buy the paper for him.
Thankfully, Phoebie’s teacher managed to get Phoebie a refund from the bookshop and warned Edward not to do it again.
I told Phoebie’s teacher that Phoebie may be a bit confused because she thought that she was being kind to her friend but was told not to do it. I explained that I had tried to talk to Phoebie about it, and the teacher said that she will also talk to Phoebie again tomorrow.
I can only pray that Phoebie is not too confused about the difference between being kind and being taken advantage of.
P.S.: During my conversation with Phoebie’s teacher, I offered to buy a packet of paper for Edward if his family had financial difficulty. The teacher clarified that Edward comes from a well-to-do family, and his Mother had stopped giving him pocket money, probably because he was wasting it.
P.P.S.: I want to thank Phoebie’s teacher for being observant and taking action quickly. Being a teacher is really not easy. Not only do they have to teach, they also have to teach the students moral lessons and safeguard the students’ welfare. A big salute to all Teachers!