Back in March I was invited to spend the day at a school in St. Louis. My mission: To talk with first through fifth graders (and their parents and teachers) about Real Friends vs. the Other Kind. In preparation for my visit, each teacher made a "mailbox" into which the kids put anonymous questions for me to answer. Because each presentation was less than an hour, I couldn't get to all the questions. So I brought them home and answered the questions from 2nd-5th graders via my blog. Reading the friendship issues from the first graders reminded me just how early this social drama can begin! Kids want and need real friends. Once they start school, having friends is the most important thing to them! To help them create and maintain healthy friendships, we've got to give them social Intelligence skills so they learn to treat others with respect when things are going well and when they're not.
As you read these questions, keep in mind that they were written by first graders. Consequently, my answers are written so that first graders can understand them. When we talk to kids about peer conflicts and friendship issues, we need to meet them where they're at. That's the best way for us to teach and for them to learn.
Q: If a friend talks behind your back should you be their friend or not their friend?
A: It hurts when people talk about us in negative ways. That's true whether they are rude to our face or rude behind our back. If your friend does this, it's probably hard for you to trust him/her. You may not be able to relax when you are with this friend. It sounds like you already know that real friends don't act that way. I agree! When this kind of thing happens in a friendship you have some choices. One thing you can do is talk to your friend and tell him/her how you feel about what's going on. Even though it might be hard to talk about this, it would be a good thing to do. You know why? Because when we let people know how we want to be treated (with RESPECT!) then we are standing up for ourselves. And that's one way to make a friendship better. It doesn't always work, but at least when you speak up in a friendship, you are being a good friend to yourself. If you talk to your friend and the disrespectful behavior doesn't stop, then I suggest you take a vacation from this friendship.
Q: How can I get more friends? I only have a couple.
A: You ask, "How can I GET more friends?" Friends are not the same as a new pair of shoes. You can't just go out and "get" them. Making friends is a skill... like riding a bike, swimming, or making yourself a peanut butter and sliced banana sandwich. You learn how and you keep practicing. It's cool that you want more friends. It's also cool that you already have a few. That means you already know how to make friends. I suggest that you look around at the kids in your class and pick someone you'd like to get to know better. Someone you think would be a good friend for you. Then tomorrow, give yourself a challenge: Go up to that person, smile and say "hi" and see what happens. Being friendly is a great beginning for a friendship. Good luck!
Q: What if everybody is excluding you because you're new?
A: I think you should talk to your parents about this. Tell them that you need some help fitting in with the kids in your class because they already know each other and you are new. Maybe Mom or Dad will help you set up a play date with someone in your class. Spending time with someone outside of school can be a really good way to start a friendship. Once you have one friend in your class, I'm sure you will make other friends and start to feel like you belong... because you do!
Q: What do I do if someone I don't want to play with wants to play with me?
A: You have the right to choose who to play with. But you do not have the right to be disrespectful or cruel. Not ever. It sounds like you have a reason for not wanting to play with this person. I wonder what it is? Is it because this person has not been a good friend to you in the past? If you have been hurt by this person, then I understand why you may not want to spend time with him/her. But here's something to think about: If you two once were friends, what might you do to make things better? If, on the other hand, you have never been friends with this person who wants to play with you, what makes you so sure that you do not want them as a friend? In every class, in every school, there are kids who need a friend. Friendly kids are peace-makers. They are leaders, and I think they are also heroes. What would it take for you to be hero-friend to this person?
Q: Why do best friends get into fights?
A: People get into 'fights' when, at a certain moment, they each want something different. For example, if I want you to go on the swings with me at recess and you want me to play tether ball with you, we've got a conflict. But just because we disagree doesn't mean we have to "get into a fight" about it. You and your best friend are both smart kids. You are creative and you know how to figure things out. If you both agreed that "getting into a fight" is not a good idea (because all it does is make people angry and hurt the friendship) then I'll bet you and your friend can think of a solution to the problem. For example, a COMPROMISE. Do you know what that word means? It means "We each get some of what we want." So, a compromise might be, "For the first half of recess we go on the swings and for the second half we play tether ball." Problem solved. Now I understand that not all disagreements between friends are that easy to resolve, but if friends agree not to "fight" and instead to calm down and to talk and listen to each other with respect, I'm pretty sure you can figure out a solution to most of your problems. When the problem is too big to figure out on your own, get help from your parent or your teacher. That's a smart move that will also help the friendship!
NOTE TO PARENTS: Just like us, kids have different emotional responses to what happens to them. And sometimes (often) they need to talk about it. Talking about feelings helps our kids understand themselves and other people better. It also helps them create and maintain healthy friendships.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.