Do you remember your very first friendship? Do you recall your journey to becoming a friend? When was it? How did it start? Where were you? What did you say or do?
I asked a young friend of mine how she makes friends at school. She told me she looks for classmates who have a “sad face” and then she asks them if they want to play with her at recess. She went on to say she has done this three times and now she has two best friends. The third, she told me, found other friends.
Making friends comes early and easily for some children. A child may feel confident in their own social/emotional skills to approach another child and begin a conversation or just join the child’s activity. Some children take longer in reaching out for friendships beyond family. Observing others and interacting slowly is typical of many children. How and when children build friendships vary just as they do in learning to walk and talk.
Some friendships are fleeting (playing for a few minutes on a playground with a child they just met) and others are based on interest at the moment (sitting down with a classmate who is interested in looking through a book that interests both of them). And, then there are those “best friends” relationships built on trust, the joy of being together and the ability to be yourself without the fear of being judged.
One of life’s greatest joys is the comfortable give and take of a good friendship. It’s a wonderful feeling not only to have a friend, but to know how to be a friend yourself.
Mister Fred Rogers
What can we do to help children develop friendships? Model positive social skills such as respect, kindness, cooperation as well as how to listen will help children form positive friendships (short or long). Observe children’s interactions and offer them guidance such as what to say, ask or do. Remind children that just as they have feelings other have them, too. How do you think he/she feels when you take the toy away? How do you feel when he/she takes your toy away? What could you say to let him/her know you want to play? Most importantly, remind children to be themselves!
Read books about friendships. All kinds of friendships. Talk about the problems the friends (characters) had in the story and how they solved them. The list of children’s books describing friendships is practically endless. Here are a few of my favorites:
Forget Me Not (Friendship Blossoms)
by Michael Broad
by Janell Cannon
by Libba Moore Gray/Illustrated by Jada Rowland
by Kevin Henkes
Having friends is important. How to be a friend is just as important. It’s a life skill we all get to learn. So, be contagious, share your friend-making skills with a child today.