Although bullying does not commonly become an issue in the early years of elementary school the stage is being set for it to rear its ugly head in the near future. You can do some work with your child now to protect their friendships and improve their future social interactions. Young children are busy forming social connections and friendships. You should spend time talking with your child about what it means to be a good friend and how you expect them to act in these relationships. Family dinners are fantastic time for opening conversations about topics you want your child to consider (call it brainwashing over broccoli). Here are some ideas for this conversation.
Often young children have the mistaken notion that they can only have one good friend at a time. For example, they may really like Susie and spend lots of time with her but if they meet a new fun person they reject Susie because they don’t understand that it is okay to have many friends at one time of varying closeness. Show them the relationships that you have as examples of this. Of course, our connections with people change and develop over time but, it is important to also give your child the sense that it is important to nurture and protect their existing friendships as they go forward and make new ones. This of course, would be a good time for a rousing chorus of “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver but the other is gold!”
You should take time to help foster your child’s friendships. Set up play dates and encourage her to have people she likes over to your house. When a child arrives at your house be sure to make them comfortable – greet them by name, tell them how glad you are to see them. Keep an eye out on how the play date is going; offer ideas for activities if they are needed and feed them snacks. When it is over and you deliver the friend to their parent take time to praise their behavior to the parent – this makes both child and parent feel good and ultimately helps strengthen the budding friendship. Make friends with the parents of your child’s friends.
Besides teaching your child loyalty and devotion in friendships you can also discuss how they should react if they see another child being treated poorly. Bullying usually involves three roles that the involved people play – the bully, the bullied and the bystander (see a good book with the same name: “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School–How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle” by Barbara Coloroso). You should discuss what each of these roles is. Teaching your child to stand up for others is crucial to helping them become a good friend and person. Let them know you expect them to not join in teasing or saying mean things; words hurt as much as actions. Have them talk with a grown up if they feel another child is being hurt or if they feel hurt by another’s words or actions.
Finally, spend time talking about the differences in people around you. People have different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, cultures and abilities. Point out how the world is a better place because of this diversity – it would be boring if we were all the same. Let them know that it is not okay to tease another child because they are different.
Robert Lewis Stevenson said:
… no man is useless while he has a friend.
He was right; friendship is crucial to our success in life. Help your child find this success by teaching him how to be a good friend now.