“In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” Aristotle
I once read a study on friendship that stated that children need at least one close friend throughout their primary and secondary education in order to have successful school experiences. As the parent of a high schooler, I can tell you that this is true.
The basis for building successful friendships begins early in life. During these early years, children are learning how to navigate the tricky friendship waters. They are learning how to be patient when it doesn't seem possible, how to be kind even when unkind things are happening, how to be flexible, how to really listen, how to comfort, how to share, how to be empathetic and how to formulate a meaningful apology.
The key to learning these skills is to experience friendship conflicts. In my preK-K classroom, we spent an enormous amount of time learning to be a good friend. This meant that as their teacher I was not solving friendship conflicts. My role was to facilitate problem-solving strategies. I was there to help the children communicate their feelings and guide them towards a solution. I never required someone to say they were sorry as this diminishes the meaning of the phrase "I’m sorry". Instead I offered phrases that applied to each particular conflict scenario.
One day a group of friends had a conflict during recess with some big feelings. This group of friends struggled to come to an agreeable solution so they decided to take break from one another. When we returned to the classroom for lunch the big feelings lingered. Because I didn’t step in to solve the conflict something magical happened. The friends started sharing their feelings about the conflict as they ate. There was no yelling or crying just a simple discussion. A discussion where “I statements” were used. A discussion where authentic and meaningful apologies were made. A discussion which led to smiles, laughter, and plans for best friend playdates.
It’s hard to believe a group of 4-6 year olds stepped away from a high emotion conflict, reflected on the situation, had a calm conversation, and came to a resolution where everyone was heard and respected. Sounds a little like magic, right?
It had nothing to do with magic or luck. That moment was a combination of dedicated adults modeling, acting out, and scaffolding different relationship and conflict situations. That moment was months of the children learning that while I was there for support, I was not going to intervene and solve the problem for them. They put into practice the skills they learned through social emotional lessons and past conflicts to come back to a place of kindness and friendship. Understanding both the importance of friendship and how to navigate the different situations that arise in early childhood is an essential skill for parents and educators.
Being the parent of a high schooler I cannot express the power you are instilling in your child when you don't always come to their rescue. There is a time when you feel as if you can solve every problem for your child but as they get older this is no longer true. Be a friendship facilitator, not a problem solver!
Are you looking for more guidance in this area? Check out our online course titled You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party: Navigating Friendships: Friendship is often underrated considering the tremendous impact it has on our well-being. The ability to make connections is something that is frequently overlooked as a positive developmental influence. We don’t always realize how attached young children are to their friends. Participants learn about the importance of developing connections and explore ways to encourage positive friendships.