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Growing up is tough. When Josh was in preschool and even kindergarten I never referred to his classmates as peers but rather as his friends. “Did your friends (meaning everyone) like your show and tell?” We took in valentines to everyone, because we are friends with everyone. Birthday parties the same thing – everyone gets invited. I kept telling my child to be nice to everyone because we are all friends. And then something happened that I wasn’t quite prepared for. He grew up. He got older. And over night (well, it seems like over night) he learned that some kids have more friends than others. We can say being popular doesn’t matter but in all honesty, in a way it does. Everyone wants friends. It’s a need that all people – adults and children need. But it is important for us to teach our kids that how you think, feel and believe about yourself is what really matters, no matter if you have 5 friends or 50 friends.
My son drew the picture above at the beginning of the school year. It was for his first journal prompt of the year. He brought it home and I asked if it was him, mommy and daddy. He looked at me like I was crazy. “No. It’s me (the middle) and those are two girls who are in love with me because I’m so popular.”
So how do you handle the issue of popularity? Do you talk about it? Not talk about it? The truth is – I want my child to be popular. I want him to feel good walking into a lunch room and everyone say “Sit by me” “No, sit by me!” but I want my child to be liked for the right reasons. I don’t want my child to feel pressure to do something because it will impress the other kids or make everyone laugh. But I also want him to have quality friends — not quantity. And I want him to be a good friend to others.
Right now, in our house, we are focusing on trying to teach our son how to be a good friend and how sometimes the popular choice isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes standing up for what is right is really hard – even for adults! Here are some tips on how to teach your kids how to be a good friend:
– Explain what a good friend is. What qualities do you as their mom look for in a friend? To me, a good friend is someone I can count on. They are dependable, fun to be around and kind. I like to be around happy people.
– Just because someone is different doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with them. Encourage your child to be friends with those who are different from them. Your child can be friends with someone who is younger, older, has a disability, a different ethnicity, or a different religion. Everyone has similarities just like we have differences. Tell your child to look for someone who looks lonely at school or the park. Let them experience the awesome feeling you get when you are kind to others!
– Compromising is important. Sometimes friends want to do different things or go different places. A good friend will sometimes play soccer instead of basketball because their friend wants to not because they want to. Thinking of friendship as a two-way street and explaining that sometimes you do things not because you want to but because someone you care about wants to is important.
– However, somethings should never be compromised on! A good friend should never want to take you on a path that could lead to trouble or hurt others. And a good friend should also be able to respect the word ‘no’. A good friend also should not expect to always get their way. It’s important for our kids to know that they can walk away from unhealthy friendships.
– Do your part! Cheer your kid on when you hear positive stories about being a good friend! Also, if you see someone being a good friend to your child make sure you point it out – “Oh, wow sounds like Sam is a really great friend.” By praising our children and our children’s positive friends we as parents, can help point out and remind our children what being a friend is all about. I also think it is important to be inviting to your child’s friends. If you can, have them over for a sleep over or take them to the park. I don’t mind taking on a group of kids because I feel like I’m in the loop (without being over barring!) I know where they are, what they are doing, and usually I can hear just about everything being said (kid’s aren’t very quiet!)
So while my child may not be the most popular kid in school (or maybe he is!) he has some awesome friends. And in his mind he is at least a little popular. He has what we call quality friends. We continue to try to teach and model what good friendships are all about.
How do you deal with the issue of popularity? What traits do you think are important to teach your child in regards to being a good friend?
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