Making new friends and adjusting to other’s personalities and behaviours are a big deal no matter how old you are. To be able to interact well, cultivating compassion and learning conflict resolution skills are vital in maturing into a well balanced, socially adept grown up.
Some children make friends easily, and have a gang of buddies so diverse that parents are kept busy with play dates, sleep overs and trying to keep up with gifts for the continuous birthday parties. Other children are very happy having one or two ‘besties’ and quite particular about who they share their time with. Then there are the sensitive children who are often labelled ‘shy’ and pushed to conform to the norm.
Side note: Whatever your child’s personality type, I encourage all parents to do your best to not use labelling names like ‘shy’, ‘clumsy’, ‘naughty’, ‘lazy’ or ‘noisy’. Why? Because you will get what you ask for and if your child is labelled they will eventually become who you tell them they are.
Focusing on your child’s uniqueness and showing them how you are a ‘good friend’ within your community are wonderful ways to assist your child in loving who they are and sharing that love and consideration with others.
What does 'friendship' mean?
Here are some skills and values that contribute to making friends which you may choose to share and discuss with your child.
- Discuss the values that are important to your child and reflect on your family’s values and what they mean to you.
- What does being friendly and loyal to others mean to your child and how does that play out at home. What are the qualities of a good friend?
- How does your child practise being fair, compromising, being good at taking turns and allowing others to make decisions in game planning. Sharing decision making and chores at home is a great way to teach fairness.
- Teach them how to negotiate and empower others instead of being a’ bossy boots’. Also this incorporates focusing on problem solving and learning to recognise when emotions are getting out of hand. Deep breathing techniques really help, or just walking away.
- Discuss ways we are respectful of others, their property, and how to ask for that in return. I like to follow the adage ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you’. It used to make me crazy when my Mum said it to me, but as I matured it made sense.
- Trust is vital in any relationship no matter how old you are. Talk about the importance of keeping their word, ‘crossing their hearts and hope to die’ and honouring the all important ‘secrets’ that children love to share and mystify. How do they think they can be true to their friends and still keep their own integrity sacred?
- Role playing how to deal with ‘dobbing’ situations and power plays is a safe way for them to be prepared for when that happens, as it will.
- How does your child practise kindness and empathy, recognising when someone is hurting or sad and wants to help.
- Discuss that some families come from different cultures and so have differing values and rules in their lives. Every family is different in some way.
- Read books or watch movies that focus on different values, friendships and how people find ways to make each other bigger than the problem.
When parents show respect for others, avoiding name calling, putting others down or gossiping and using loving language, this assists children to understand how we best treat others. Do your best to avoid using hurtful words and actions, especially in front of the kiddies.
Ways to develop new friendships are numerous:
- Play dates
- Meeting at a playground
- Meeting the parents and if it feels right, invite their new friend’s family to a get together
- Sleep overs
- Taking turns with other parents to do drop offs and pick ups
- Your child may find satisfying friendships out of school, if friendships are not easily formed at school. Sports, gymnastics, dancing or drama, what are your child’s interests? Listen and follow their cues.
Sometimes it is very important to keep in touch with old kindy pals, especially when they go to a different school. Some kindergarten friendships are very precious and can last a life time.
Dealing with conflict
My number one rule for parents is to encourage the children to sort out any friendship issues themselves. As parents we do not want to model ourselves as Mums and Dads who stand each other off at the school gate, blaming each other’s ‘kid’ for any wrong doing. Children are fickle and will sometimes flit from one friend to another finding their way and where they fit. They are learning. One day best friends the next they are chanting ‘you’re not my friend anymore’ then the next day they are besties again. Meanwhile parents are sometimes too emotionally involved and see things from grown up’s eyes, which is not the reality of the child. The parents are in conflict now and the children are great friends, thanks very much!
- Firstly, help them understand that not everyone will want to be their friend and they don’t want everyone as their friend either. There will be exclusivity, but if you choose to follow some of the suggestions I have shared you can help them have an understanding of what is happening so they don’t take it too personally.
- Listen to your child when they have a friendship challenge. Let them talk it out and express their emotions, no matter how much you want to fix it or feel uncomfortable with their upset, sometimes by just listening they can find ways to feel better and solve issues themselves.
- No one is wrong, do your best not to negate the other child as they may make up and become good friends again in the future.
- If another child or parent accuses your child of hitting or bullying, breathe deeply and listen, they may have some valuable information to help you notice something about your child’s behaviour that needs help, perhaps they are not coping. Try not to overreact, (which is quite difficult when this is your baby their talking about).
- Ask for a teacher to mediate if necessary, but the most important thing is to have the facts and keep blame and shame away. If you find out your child did cause a problem, deal with it at home, when you are calm and ready to listen to their side of the story.
- Help them find a solution to changing their reaction or behaviour next time and move on. Never force an apology; it is very embarrassing and demeaning for all. If your child really finds it hard to say ‘sorry’ perhaps a note or a picture to the other child may help. Apologies should not be a punishment, the shame that goes with that is not a good learning experience.
Teaching your child resilience and feeling secure in who they are will help them adjust to changes and other people’s demands. Remind them of what they do well so they have a solid foundation to support them when they are feeling wobbly. Help them understand that believe it or not, they always have the choice to choose how they feel; nobody else can make them feel anything they do not want to.
It is a jungle out there in playground land; sometimes a joyous, safe place and at other times tricky and challenging. Following these tips may just make your child’s friendship journeys that bit easier.
NB – I am not addressing ‘bullying’ in this blog as it is a huge topic, and there are many very informative articles about bullying available.
©Arnaum Walkley 2015