Thursday, September 23, 2010
For most children, the invitation is unnecessary. They begin with parallel play as toddlers, and as they grow and mature socially, they find playmates more enjoyable. Playmates may be found in a sibling, our neighborhood, children we meet at the park, the library, preschool or other classes, or sports activities. Frequent playmates become friends, and the social-emotional development continues as bonds form. But for many children making their first friends, the habits of parallel play or play with a parent leave them with some bossy behaviors or strong opinions about the right and wrong ways to enjoy an activity. How do we teach our children to be good friends?
Good Models, High Expectations, and Meaningful Chats
There’s no doubt B learns the most simply by watching what goes on around him. He’s a very observant kid. Most children are aware of adult interactions and these become their first model for their own interactions. In that sense, the best things I can do to teach B about friendship are model kindness and compassion, and surround myself with others whose actions I respect and admire. I think we can take learning about friendship beyond what is simply absorbed by sharing our expectations and chatting about experiences. And, of course, I always think a good story or picture book is a lovely way to engage a child and begin the conversation. With B starting preschool this month, I wanted to prepare him for meeting new friends, and the school theme for the week is friendship, which gave me two good reasons to pull together some of our favorite books about friends.
Kindness, Commonalities, and Acceptance
Children who have been accustomed to ruling the roost (especially oldests like my B, or onlies) can sometimes have trouble adjusting to playing cooperatively with peers. His ideas of how certain games should be played or the “correct” way to pretend can be pretty rigid. Two books that encourage getting along with others are The Crayon Box that Talked and Little Quack’s New Friend– both occupy real estate on B’s bookshelf. The Crayon Box that Talked, by Shane DeRolf, follows a box of crayons from its squabbles on the shelf of a toy store to its purchase and later use by a little girl who gets the crayons to work together on a beautiful picture. After doing so, the crayons realize that each of them is different, but they all contributed something valuable. I like to relate this to allowing friends to play different roles in a game or activity: they may not all play the same way, but they each contribute something. Little Quack’s New Friend , by Lauren Thompson, is part of the Little Quack series, and my favorite so far. Little Quack and his siblings are approached by a frog that wants to play, and initially, each of his siblings refuses based on something that makes the frog different from them (he’s green, tiny, doesn’t quack). But Little Quack is happy to have a playmate, and they head off together. As the siblings watch Little Quack and his froggy friend have fun, each in turn decides they’d rather play than sit and watch, and soon they are all playing together. I like using this story to encourage B to be open to new friendships and new activities. The sounds of each activity (including “boinga poinga,” and “plunka splunka”) contribute light-heartedness and make the book fun rather than a heavy-handed lesson. Both of these would have easily crossed over into my post on uniqueness last week. And Big Little Elephant, from last week’s post, would also be a great book to focus on friendships. Finally our latest library find on friendship was Hi, Harry! The moving story of how one slow tortoise slowly made a friend, by Martin Waddell. Harry the tortoise begins the book in search of a friend, but everyone he meets is in too much of a hurry to play or get to know him. Feeling a little dejected, Harry tries to befriend a mushroom, a rock, and even his own reflection! He is happily surprised when Sam Snail asks to be friends. He finds that Sam is just the friend he’s been looking for because they have so much in common! They enjoy slow races, Heads-in and Heads-out, and turning around and around together. The story demonstrates how finding things in common helps build friendships. It’s the kind of encouragement a little one might need when he’s feeling hard-pressed to establish friendships in a new environment.
Appropriate for toddlers, preschoolers, primary grades
How do you help your child be a good friend? Please share!
If you have a book recommendation for this week, link it up! And, pay a visit to a blog I enjoy, 5 Minutes for Books! They’ve got a fall festival of children’s books going on this week, with some excellent recommendations and great giveaways!