"Mom, Katie said she wouldn't be my friend if I played with Emma," said a troubled kindergartner. Who would have guessed it could start so young? The world of friends is not always easy or comfortable. There are those who want to dictate, "run the show," and be "Queen or King Bee." They play one child against another. It is divisive, excluding and a power play. It can, literally, hold children captive if they are ill equipped. How do we teach children to stand-up against this attitude and exercise freedom in friendships?
Start Point: Teach, in the early years, what a healthy relationship looks like. This happens by modeling a healthy adult relationship, but also in helping them establish friendships. Offer social settings where they spend time with peers to foster friendships. Promote more than one special friend. This aids children in learning that friendships do not have to be exclusive.
In her article, Teaching Kids Life Skills: Being a Good Friend, Kristina on the Kids Activity Blog suggests, "Being a good friend is not a skill that kids just pick up from hanging out with other children on the playground. Developing friendships takes a lot of work (both by parents and kids)." In the smallest of ways, teach how friends behave, share, care about feelings, want the best, include others, respect feelings, use kind words, spend time together, enjoy each other's company and give and take.
"It's your unlimited power to care and to love that can make the biggest difference in the quality of your life." - Anthony Robbins
Strive to teach children empathy. Empower children to consider the feelings of others. Use the preschool years to train that their actions affect people around them. If Katie tells your child to not play with Emma, empathy teaches them to think from Emma's point of view. Considering how actions affect others is a learned skill and will only evolve if adults emphasize it. The earlier a child learns to empathize, the earlier he will make good choices. "How would I feel if I were Emma" and acting on that information is the goal of empathy. Treating people with empathy creates a kind, thoughtful child. It moves them beyond thinking only of themselves.
Instruct children to express their opinion with kindness. Embolden them to speak up for other children. Ensure them that speaking against another's opinion is not wrong, if they speak kindly; everyone is entitled to an opinion. Encourage children to say something like
"That would not be kind to Emma."
"I don't want to make Emma feel bad."
"I want to play with Emma."
"It is your choice; I want to play with everyone."
Put efforts into assuring children know how healthy friendships look and function. The dividends pay out as they trudge beyond the front door into the big world. Surprises will inevitably crop up and present young ones with decisions, but preparation equips them with healthy responses. "Queen and King Bees" will emerge, but confident "worker bees" hold the power; they pollinate the world with honey.
Read Books About Friendships
1. Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
2. My Best Friend Abe Lincoln by Robert L. Bloch
3. Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, Paula Kahumbu and Peter Greste
4. Help!: A Story of Friendship by Holly Keller
5. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
6. Best Friends for Frances By Russell Hoban
7. How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Laurie Krasny Brown
8. Bear's New Friend by Karma Wilson
9. Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson Ph.D.
10. Circle of Three: Enough Friendship to Go Around? by Elizabeth Brokamp