This past Sunday night, my daughter and I had the following conversation:
"It's time to go to bed so you can get up for school in the morning."
"I don't want to go to school tomorrow. I'm not going to go there any more."
"Why not? You love going to school."
"I don't like my teachers or my friends or toys."
"But you like your teacher Lida."
"I do like Lida but not the other teachers."
"And you like your friends M [Russian] and L [New Zealand]."
"I do like M but not L. I don't want to be her friend any more. I bite L."
(K has claimed not to like L several times in the past several weeks, and actually did bite her at school a month or so ago.)
"That's not very kind, is it? L is your friend and we don't bite our friends."
"But I don't like L any more, because L speaks English and I don't want to speak English at school. I want to speak Czech like all the other kids. I don't like English."
"You don't like English?? But you and I speak English together."
"I do like your English, Mommy, I just don't like L's English."
"Well, that makes sense. You don't have to speak English at school if you don't want to, because everybody else speaks Czech there. Maybe you could tell L you want to speak Czech together."
"But L doesn't speak Czech."
"She does speak Czech actually - she just doesn't like to. But you know, even if L speaks English to you, you could answer her in Czech. You don't have to speak English if you don't want to, and if you want to play with someone else, just tell L that."
"I did tell L I want to play with somebody else, but she said no. So I bite her."
"It really isn't kind to bite people. Maybe you could tell your teacher if you want to play with someone else and L won't leave you alone, because you should be able to play with whoever you want."
I had suspected in the past several weeks that L might be more attached to K than K is to L, but I didn't know it was bothering her to this extent. I couldn't believe she was able to put into words at her age that it bothers her to stand out by speaking another language at preschool from the rest of her friends. It had occurred to me that she might feel that way (at least eventually), but I didn't want to suggest it to her by asking. I can't agree with her way of handling the issue - biting and telling L she isn't her friend - but I really can't fault the desire to use her languages in the appropriate contexts. That's completely understandable! After all, the rest of us get to choose when and where to use our languages. And I would hate for K to feel so self-conscious about it that she started to actually dislike English. Basically she is getting pulled into another child's language rebellion.
I brought up the key points from the above conversation with K's teachers at school on Monday, and they confirmed my feeling that L is more attached to K than K to L. They also added a new bit of information, which is that, in addition to preferring English, L is a bit bossy - always wants to choose what and how to play - and K is the only child agreeable enough to put up with it. K isn't a passive child, but she is obliging and typically doesn't insist on her own way, so I can see that dynamic existing. Being easy-going and adaptable is a good trait and evidence of a good heart, I think, but I don't want K to be so overwhelmed that she lets herself be pushed around until she feels the need to lash out in order to escape. Which seems to be what is happening.
We are reminding K regularly now (as are her teachers, once they found out how much it bothers her) that she can choose who to play with and what language to speak - she doesn't have to speak English if she isn't comfortable with it, even if L addresses her in English. And she doesn't have to go along with everything someone else wants in general, either. That's the trick, I suppose: taking charge of your own languages and your own life, and learning to stand up for yourself without biting people...