How to help kids make friends (and love their classroom neighbor)
With confidence comes the respect of classmates.
Last week, while I was at work, an e-mail pinged in from my friend Machelle. Noticing that it was titled simply, “Recess,” I cringed as I clicked to open it. Machelle has four young children and is not one to send me notes about cute antics; if the title was “recess,” it was about something that went wrong at recess—either with her children or my own.
I quickly read the e-mail. I was right. Her fifth-grade son had approached her, crying, at lunch recess, when she was dropping off her kindergartner for the afternoon. Some boys in his class would not let him play basketball.
As we exchanged e-mails, I recognized the names of the exclusionary boys as ones I had heard too often before—both from my own children and from other parents. I thought of them as the “alpha-male boys”; some parents called them bullies. The school agreed with the second label, and after Machelle spoke to her son’s teacher, each of the boys received the first warning step in the school’s bullying prevention program.
School is one of the most challenging places for our children to live out Jesus’ command to love their neighbor. The complicated web of social interaction means that often kids are jockeying for position within their class. Helping children to approach interaction with peers from a Christian perspective can be difficult when their peers may have an entirely different agenda that has nothing to do with “loving neighbors” and everything to do with establishing power.
Parents who hold their child to high expectations in terms of how to treat others, however, find that over time, their children become more confident. With confidence comes the respect of classmates, and if there are enough “right acting” children, those kids—not the bullies—eventually set the tone for the class.
Give your child some key phrases
Michele Borba, author of Parents Do Make a Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds and Caring Hearts (Jossey-Bass), said that parents and teachers can help kids come up with words and phrases to help people feel good. Her examples include: I enjoyed that. I’m glad you’re back. Are you all right? How can I help? You look upset.
Help them to forgive and be forgiven
Our church gives us some powerful resources to help both adults and kids through even the most challenging relationships. Parents who recognize this give their children a gift to take with them into adulthood. Each week, as we recited the Our Father before the Eucharist, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
If you know that your child has had a rough week at school with friendship issues, talk about forgiveness before Mass and ask him or her to pay special attention for times to ask for forgiveness. If you hold hands during the Our Father, give your child a quick squeeze during the part about forgiving. Consider going to the sacrament of Reconciliation during tough times. Once, after our family went to Reconciliation, our son Liam, then 8, reacted by racing around the church parking lot afterwards. “I feel so light!” he told us by way of explanation.
Help them be inclusive
Jesus instructed his followers that when giving a luncheon, they should not invite friends, rich neighbors, or relatives, but instead should invite those who cannot repay them (Luke 14:12–24). We can teach our children to follow in Jesus’ example by encouraging them to plan pay dates with kids who might be otherwise excluded—the quiet child whom no one notices; the child who doesn’t live near everyone else; the child labeled as “not cool.” While children should certainly be allowed a choice in whom they invite to their home, parents can provide guidance to help kids move beyond the obvious choices—those popular kids that everyone thinks of first.
This article was originally published in the February 2009 issue of At Home with our Faith.
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