I had my answer a little while later, when an adorable 2.5 year old started playing with the girl's pail. She emptied the sand out and put the pail on her head. She looked so adorable! Unfortunately, the mean girl didn't think so. Even though she had to be about 6 years old, she started tantrumming over this! It then occurred to me that the girl probably wasn't being bitchy or mean. She most likely was on the autism spectrum herself. I don't know why my autism-radar wasn't working. Any parent of an autistic child gets this radar. We're usually extremely sensitive to when other kids are on the spectrum, but I just missed it this time.
After this, I saw a little boy arriving late to the party. He was an old friend of my daughter's from preschool. It's been a few months since they had seen each other, so I thought it would be fun for my daughter to go over and say, "Hi!" This was a big mistake! He did not remember her at all, even though they were friends for over 2 years. Then, she didn't want to leave the party area. I felt really horrible about bringing her over, but I explained that we weren't invited, so we couldn't stay there. I gave her a snack after we returned to the playground area to help make-up the fact that she couldn't eat the yummy food they had at the party.
After she had her snack, the kids at the party started breaking a pinata. My poor daughter was inside the playground watching the kids hitting the pinata. She looked like a homeless person gazing into a window of a fine restaurant, watching the diners enjoy their filet mignon. It was heartbreaking.
I mentioned to the behaviorist that I thought we should leave, that my daughter looked so sad. The behaviorist said that might not be the case, but went over to my daughter to ask her how she felt. My daughter replied that she felt sad and jealous (wow, pretty great realization of emotions). The behaviorist hung with her for a while, then returned to her supervisor and me. We asked what the behaviorist had said to my daughter, and she told us. Then she went on to tell my daughter that what she was feeling was perfectly normal--anyone would feel sad and jealous. "Really?" my daughter responded, clearly surprised. "Yes!" the behaviorist answered. Then she shared a technique with my daughter to help her with her feelings. "Let's make a game up called people-watching!" The behaviorist showed my daughter how to look at the people and make comments about who looked like they were having fun, who looked sad. They tried to guess who would be successful at breaking the pinata open. The behaviorist showed my daughter that she can feel other things on top of the sadness and jealousy, such as feeling curious.
I was blown away by this! It never would have occurred to me to do this. I was feeling sadness and jealously on behalf of my daughter. I couldn't step outside the sadness for her to help her out. I would have just told my daughter that it was an off-day at the park and suggest leaving. But this would not have taught my daughter any coping skills to use in the future. I mentioned to the supervisor that I don't have the "bag of tricks" that the behaviorist has and because of my personal involvement, it makes it harder for me to come up with these ideas.
I don't know what I'm going to do when behavior therapy ends. I'm definitely going to have to learn to come up with these nifty ideas. It's not easy when you're dealing with your own feelings of sadness for your daughter.