Children need each other
Friendships play a crucial role in getting kids through those tough moments. But they can go wrong too.
Rosie is in Grade 3 and has been feeling very anxious about school lately. Many children have the same worry. It often starts the night before or in the morning, mounts on the way to school and then peaks in the car park. So Rosie has needed help in the mornings to get up those stairs and into the classroom.
To help her with this she has been coming to see me, the school counsellor, for early morning chats. As the bell rings she asks if we can't just chat a little longer, but sooner or later she knows that she has to get to her classroom. Once there, and the day has got going, she is fine. She knows this. I sometimes suggest we go up together, an offer she gladly accepts.
We set off happily enough, but as we mount the stairs I can feel the tension and apprehension mounting, and by the time we are at the door to the classroom, her eyes are filled with tears, and she is frozen on the spot.
From inside the classroom her friend Gemma notices her, and is at her side in a flash. She takes her in her arms while chanting ‘Time for school, time for school,’ and dances her into the classroom. Before Rosie knows what has happened she is at her desk and unpacking her books. Sometimes a friend can do what no adult can do. Rosie is now met in the morning by her friends, and the anxiety is over.
While we may not be able to choose our family, we are able to choose our friends, and the circle of friends a child has, represents a major step towards independence. I have been talking to children about friendship lately, and they have a lot to say. Friendship is about love and trust, someone who is there for you, always supportive, kind, shares with you, plays with you, cares for you when you are sad or hurt, advises you when you need help.
‘Like angels without wings,’ says one, waxing lyrical.
When friendships go wrong
But it is not always plain sailing. Difficulties do crop up. Broken promises, being excluded from the group, disagreements and jealousies.
Parents often wonder how much they need to get involved in these issues. It is so distressing when a child comes home in tears over some difficulty with friends. I asked children themselves how they felt their parents could support them. Some felt they wanted to deal with difficulties themselves, others were adamant that they needed their parents’ assistance.
Both are right, really; sometimes children can figure things out for themselves, and sometimes they need help. There may be serious bullying going on, and intervention may be needed. If a child has a fight with a friend, chances are they will make up the next day, so it does not help if the parents continue to hold a grudge against the other child.
What children need is a sounding board. A parent who will listen and help them brainstorm different solutions to a problem, and just give them the support and encouragement to resolve the issue themselves. As one girl put it, she needs her parents to ‘put a lot of effort into what I'm saying’, an excellent definition of true listening. Another girl, 8 years old, said; ‘when I have a fight with my friend, and I don't feel like saying sorry, my Mom helps me to see it, and then I feel happy and do feel like saying sorry.’ Beautiful. Don't we all need that kind of help?
Are friends a positive influence in your child’s life?
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