Over the last few weeks with the new school year, I have had so many chats with mums about friends in school settings. It is such a stressful time because no one wants their child to have no friends and it is heart breaking seeing them coming home sad from what otherwise could be a fun filled day. So what I have found in the varied chats and even my own experiences with my two school kids may help you, if your child is going through something similar. Some circumstances require the help of the the teacher but some you will see that you can support your child from home.
Now for any parents who are currently worried that their child is coming home saying they didn't play with anyone, pause on the worry for a second. If they aren't even concerned or seemed to care they didn't play with anyone and are happy coming home from school, you can throw your worries away right now. Children from a young age until around seven tend to parallel play. That is an Early Childhood Educator term so I will explain it in realistic mum style. Most children between these ages will usually play alongside other children or float between kids playing different activities. Have you ever had friends over so your kids could play and they not really play 'together' the whole time or at all? It is because establishing close friendships may not be important to them quite yet. As a Kindy and Year One teacher, I saw this everyday with my class of kids playing during recess and lunch times. They would just wonder around, watch other kids playing or play on the play equipment not engaging with anyone else. Or they might spend five minutes playing hand ball with a class mate and then go join in a chasing game with another group. This is all very very normal!
As a teacher, I knew this would be the case for most of my class and always put a lot of emphasis on the children being friends with everyone. As a mum, well I did exactly the same and that was purely to take the pressure off my kids feeling like they have to make a friend or a little group of friends and stay with them forever. How many of you this year alone have asked your child who they played with today or if they have made friends yet? Don't stress if you have, I promise you haven't done anything wrong or made the situation worse, just maybe stop saying it. If they bring it up, that's completely different and by all means, engage in that conversation and we will go into that more in a minute.
Before I give you some helpful tips, I want you to imagine yourself in their shoes. Brand new school or brand new class year where they have been split from their friends they made the year before. Their day is spent adjusting to new routines, structures, settings, just new everything! After only a few weeks at school, they are probably least worried about friends at this stage and more interested in nailing the whole length of the monkey bars without falling off or learning how to play hand ball! Not to mention at this age they will parallel play with a number of kids in their class and outside their class and year level as well. Eva played hairdressers with a group of year six girls the other day! So if they are coming home happy, the teacher hasn't shown concern they are lonely, then give them some time and you will probably hear soon enough about all the friends they begin meeting and wanting playdates with! My friend just today said her daughter is now playing with kids in her new class after spending the last week a bit anxious over not having anyone to play with. Like everything that is a new thing, it just takes a bit of time.
If your child is coming home in tears or just sad because they feel everyone has made friends and they are a bit lost then read on and hopefully my advice can help you.
As I mentioned before, most children will parallel play and float between kids before establishing a group of friends. For some children, this can begin at a very early age and I even saw this with my son Jack. He has always been the type of kid who will actually engage with other kids and sought out to make friendships when beginning school. Where this is hard for them is when they are trying to make close friendships with kids who prefer to play by themselves or float between kids. I remember when Jack was in Kindy and came home in tears one day after school because one of his friends wouldn't play handball with him because he wanted to play soccer on the oval instead. I had to explain that it didn't mean he didn't want to be your friend and he wasn't being mean, he just wanted to play soccer. We talked about how Jack needed to decide whether he find someone else who wanted to play handball or he joined in soccer on the oval. For Jack who tends to be more a follower, decided he preferred to play soccer to establish a friendship than play by himself and I said that was ok. From this decision and a couple of years at school he has an established group of friends but every now and then will tell me about different children he played with during play time because they were doing an activity he really wanted to do. This makes me so proud for someone like Jack who can be a little shy and lack confidence to make a decision or be the leader. We have encouraged and supported his personality because not everyone will be a leader right? We have taught him to be friends with everyone and get to know lots of kids so he always has someone to play with or can join in an activity. He still struggles every now and then but we ALWAYS encourage him to be brave in introducing himself and joining in and also inviting others to join in games as well. We constantly reinforce to him that he is an awesome kid and is a wonderful friend to have and that as long as he is kind, takes turns, shares and follows the school rules then that is most important.
Now along the same lines as this is when your child seems to not want to be anyone else's friend or just wants one friend. They may have kids wanting to be their friend and they aren't interested so don't stress thinking they are the ones being rude or mean, its just not where they are at with friendships and they will be soon enough as they get to know all the children in their class. If this does worry you though, try setting up an after school playdate and that way you will get to know some of the mums as well. Keep reinforcing getting to know everyone and being friendly to all the kids. That goes the same for kids who get really caught up on having just one friend. Some people can be like this and many will grow up with one real best friend and do everything with them. That's fine but that can be dangerous if they aren't taught to establish many friends and that one friend happens to move schools or something like that and then everyone around them has their groups of friends and your child is left out. I am the personality type that just loves a giant load of friends but have my small group that I share everything with and is my support crew. My kids know this about me and I support and encourage them to do this as well. I constantly tell my kids that every friend comes with something different and special about them, that can help make you a better person. I have friends that keep me motivated and accountable to things I say and do and others who will rock up at my door with dinner because they heard we were sick. And you should never stop making friends! How many new friendships have you established since becoming a mum? This blog may not just be beneficial for you helping your child.
There is so much value in doing your life with friends by your side but those skills start from a young age so it is hugely important as a parent to support and encourage your kids to seek the right type of friendships and to also be a good friend to others. Remember to have no expectations of your kids running out the classroom yelling how they made friends today on their first day of school. Stay positive and continually reassure your child that they are special and will make a great friend to others. Teach them how to make friends by being brave and introducing themselves and inviting kids to play with them.
© The Realistic Mum
Tune in for up and coming blogs on healthy school lunches in just a few minutes and a blog about breastfeeding and all the wins and challenges that come with that!
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