Friday, June 8, 2007

Best Friends Forever!

Did you know that today is "Best Friends Day"?
The phrase "best friend" means different things to different people. To me, it means Diana, my closest friend in the world. I've helped her raise her children, and she knows how to comfort me and cheer me up like nobody else in the world can. To my ten-year-old nephew, "best friend" means whatever friend he currently enjoys being around the most because they have the same interests and like doing the same things. And to my three-year-old niece, "best friend" means whatever little kid she is playing with at the moment!
To kids, "best friends", or friendship in general, means different things at different stages of their lives. When kids are small, their parents and caregivers are pretty much in charge of who their friends will be. Toddler's first friendships are often with the similarly-aged children of their parents' friends,neighbors or acquaintances. Even when children are in day care or preschool, parents seem to have a big influence on who their child will be friends with. For instance, if Jason's and Jenny's mothers enjoy talking to each other often as they wait for their children to get out of a preschool session, they'll be likely to schedule playdates and outtings with Jason and Jenny, who may quickly start calling each other "best friends."
By elementary school, kids have more choices when it comes to friends. Younger elementary school kids often pick friends based on superficial qualities. For instance, girls may choose friends who they think are pretty, and boys may choose friends who run fast.
However, as they get older, kids begin to appreciate their friends' inner qualities. They may choose friends who are "the nicest," who are good at sharing and taking turns, who have good ideas for things to do, etc. "She is a friend anyone would want to have. She is nice: she tells the truth," says one 11-year-old girl about her best friend.
And into adolescence, they start to look to their friends for emotional support, guidance, and understanding. Explains a 13-year-old girl, "We`re just friends who stick together and somehow we make it through the sad times and the bad times. There'll always be someone there to help us back up."
Friendships are an important part of every child's life, to some degree. Some kids may enjoy being alone a lot. Some may be happy having just one "best friend" or one or two special friends. Other kids like to be surrounded with friends!
But what about kids who don't have any friends?
You can coach your child on social skills.
Encourage them to smile and say "hello" to kids who they want to be friends with. A lot of times a shy child, or a child who is unsure of herself, will be frowning and looking nervous, but other kids can percieve that as the child being unfriendly or wanting to be left alone.
Show your child that people like to be friends with other people who are kind and fun to be around. Your child doesn't have to be a pushover. But if he tends to get upset when he doesn't win a game or isn't chosen first, if she blames others for things that go wrong, of he has a bad temper or makes fun of other kids, if she often tattles on others for insignificant things, he might be making it hard for himself to attract friends.
If a child sees a group of kids doing something, instead of going up and asking the entire group of she can join them, she might want to pick out one kid who she knows better than the others or who seems the friendliest. She can go up to that person and ask if she can join in.
You could also ask the child if there is one particular classmate he would like to invite over to his house. If he can think of someone he would feel comfortable asking, and if the classmate agrees to come, plan something special for the kids to do together so that they have something to bond over.
Most importantly, play up your child's special interests and talents. Show her that she has special qualities that make her a worthwhile friend for someone. Help him find friends that share his interests and will appreciate his talents. If she loves to read, encourage her to join a book club for kids her age. If he loves science, a science club would be a good idea!
Also, don't limit her activities to things that are sponsored by her school! When I was a kid I couldn't make friends at my school, no matter what I did... but I was able to make some good friends in my neighborhood, who went to different schools or were homeschooled. Sometimes, once a kid has been rejected by the other kids at school, it is very hard to break that cycle... but having a fresh start with kids who don't know his reputation at school can help a lot. Consider enrolling her in a scout troop, Camp Fire USA club, Indian Guides group, etc, that is not related to the school. If you have a place of worship, they might have a youth group where your child can do activities with kids his own age. Once she can make friends with kids she knows from places outside of school, she may have more confidence around her classmates.
If your child is in elementary school, you might want to get him this book. How Kids make Friends teaches kids how to make friends by focusing on their own unique strengths and qualities, and the idea that they deserve to have good friends!
Friends are an important part of all of our lives. Today, talk with your child about who her friends are and what she likes about them!

1 comment:

pat said...

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