Friday, July 23, 2010
fostering an understanding of friendship
i've been pondering a lot in the past few days about friendship preferences. we've reached a new stage in my kids' lives. they've begun decide who they do and do not wish to have as friends. as parents, we want our kids to enjoy the company of other kids....kids they know from school, from the neighborhood, random playground playmates, and children of our close friends. but after a certain age, our children begin showing preferences in choosing who they wish to spend time with as well as voicing who they no longer want to have as a buddy. knowing this, when is the right time to allow your child to decide against seeing certain kids socially? for me, the answer is this: as soon as your kid is old enough to articulate the WHY.
before this shift occurred, it was easy to plan get-togethers and play dates around which moms and dads the mister and i wanted to hang with. the kids, we figured, would just be kids and play happily with any other small humans, and as parents we'd simply chalk personality clashes and disputes over toys and whatnot as age-appropriate behavior.
however, lately, i've seen our kids on both sides of the to-friend-or-not-to-friend dynamic. the unicorn plays better and enjoys himself more with certain kids as does the dude. then there are kids who don't appreciate one or both of my kids' ways of doing things. whatever. we just limit togetherness with those kids to little contact and hope that over time things will even out and playing together can resume. there's no sense in setting our kids up for hurt feelings caused by being shunned by someone they consider a friend.
and when it happens in reverse, when one child (or both children) tell you they no longer want to be around certain playmates, what can you do but respect their choice? by ignoring a child's concerns we run the risk of injuring the trust we've been busily building with them since birth. if we ignore their feelings, we only condition them not to come to us for support and guidance---and there's no way i'll risk that.
i'm not saying that the first time your kid comes to you complaining of being treated unfairly or feels snubbed or isn't getting enough time with the coveted toy of the moment you jump in and protect your kid by pulling him away from the play date. that solves nothing. children learn valuable social skills through playmate interaction. give and take, turn-taking, consideration for other peoples feelings, fairness, self-expression, cooperation...the list goes on and on. a parent's role in helping the young child forge friendships is to set our kids up for success, not failure, and to be there to help them try again when they do encounter setbacks.
so my game plan is this: to continue truly listening when my kid expresses how a particular friend makes him feel, in hopes that understanding and perspective is all he needs to keep the friendship intact. but when appropriate, support and respect his decision to not continue the friendship. as adults, we know that friendships are selective by nature, so why should it be any different for our children? there are so many ways to begin exploring the understanding of what being a good friend means. but it is equally important to recognize the natural happiness that comes with finding real friendship when you see it, and knowing when you don't.