How many people do you have who you can call ‘a close friend’? How many people do you count as ‘friends’? How many people do you know who you would probably call ‘acquaintances’?
No two of us would have the same answer to these questions. How many close friends, how many friends you have depends a lot on your personality. There are some people who have a wide circle of close friends, friends they can call on for support or a laugh, close friends who know how you tick. There are others who have one or two close friends. Children are no different. Some have just one very close friend and others just can’t survive without being surrounded by lots of friends. Parents with lots of friends can sometimes feel that their child, who prefers just one close friend, is somehow missing out and they encourage them to develop lots of friendships, usually with not a lot of success. One friend or many friends; we are all different.
It really isn’t about how many close friends you have, it is about how you became close friends in the first place. It is about how you unconsciously went about establishing the boundaries of the friendship and how, during the establishment of the friendship, you worked through the ways you might deal with conflict between you. You would have also gained understanding of your close friend’s needs, hot buttons, strengths and weaknesses just as your friend would have worked you out.
Forming friendships is complex and can be a minefield if you are a child. Children do not have the developmental capacity to make the sorts of judgements about potential friends that adults have. Their friendships come and go. There is conflict one day and BFFs the next day. Two close friends will gang up on the third close friend and exclude them. The next day, the dynamics change and the one excluded yesterday has made it up with one of the two that excluded them the day before, and they then exclude the third. Complex!
Complex, yes but an absolutely vital part of their childhood. It is through the complexity of making and losing friends, dealing with conflict and disappointment, that a child develops strategies to form close friendships as an adult. This can be where parents struggle. Obviously we all want life to be smooth for our children all the time and when there is conflict, we want to step in and solve it for them. As parents, working through the minefield that is friendships with our child, rather than solving their issues ourselves, is such powerful modelling as they move into teenage years and adulthood.
Perhaps discuss strategies, ask your child for their thoughts about how to solve the issue. If a child is upset over a lost friendship or their closest friend being in another class, ask them about it and get them to verbalise or come up with a plan. Perhaps guiding them rather than telling them might help with developing their ability to deal with things in life that don’t always go right.
I’m no expert, I can only talk about strategies teachers, who play a large part in helping children learn about friendships, use to help children learn how to be a good friend and how to resolve issues.
Here is the link to the NZ Herald article published in December 2018, that you might find interesting.
How to Help Your Child Make Friends at School
Nothing distresses me more than a parent telling me at the end of a year that their child had trouble with being bullied, but neither the child nor the parent told the teacher, the senior teacher, the associate principals nor me. We can only make a difference if we know about bullying. Remember that bullies NEVER bully in front of adults, so we need to be told by the child or the parent. We take incidents of bullying very seriously and deal with it immediately we find out. Please tell your child’s teacher, me or a senior manager if your child tells you they have a problem. If you don’t tell us, the bully gets away with it and it reinforces the bully’s feeling of power.