Today is Valentine’s Day. This is the text message I sent to my grown son who is away at university in Hawaii (I know, his life is tough) …
Make sure all your friends who are girls know how much you appreciate them today. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romance … it is also for friendship.
Friends … those people in your life who feel like family, who make ordinary events fun, make all experiences sweeter, and if needed, are a shoulder to cry on. We treasure these people in our own adult lives and want our grandchildren to have that same blessing … to enjoy relationships with good friends.
Grandchildren can be introduced to their friends in all sorts of ways … through family (my cousins were my very good friends), in the neighborhood (I played with the kids on my block every day after school), at school (I met one of my best friends in all the world in my Grade 6 class), from extracurricular activities (like soccer or dance class), or the kids of their parents’ friends.
When it comes to family, a grandparent can really play a role in developing friendships between cousins … during those times when you have a number of grandchildren gathered at your house, possibly for Christmas or at a family reunion.
Being a good friend is a skill that can be taught and practiced. The main responsibility for teaching children abut friendship skills fall to their parents, but that doesn’t mean a gung ho grandma can’t help encourage and teach these skills, too.
So, here are 8 ideas for gung ho grandmas to help their grandkids to develop friendship skills …
1. Clearly explain what good friends do…
If your grandchild is hanging around with a girl/boy who is constantly putting them down, is unwilling to share with them, or is always hitting them, they should recognize that those are not the actions of a good friend.
When children understand what a good friend looks like, it can help guide their own behavior and help them judge whether another kid is being a good friend to them, or not.
Teach them that a good friend will …
- like to spend time with you
- have fun with you
- will help you when you have a problem or are sad
- do kind things for you and use kind language
- be reliable … you can trust them to do what they say they will do
- will not talk badly about you to others
- remember important things, like birthdays or that your soccer championship game was today
- make you feel good when you are around them
- will not pressure you into doing things you know are wrong
2. Role-play friend scenarios
A good way to learn anything is to practice. Role playing, where you act out different scenarios, is an excellent way to give a child confidence in dealing with friends.
When my husband and I wanted to teach our kids about how to greet new adults they were being introduced to, we showed them how to shake hands, look people in the eye and say, “Nice to meet you.” Then we role-played different places they could meet new adults and practiced and practiced and practiced together. Do you know what they did after that, when they met an adult we were introducing them to? They shook hands, looked them in the eye, and said, “Nice to meet you.” I practically did backflips with joy!!
From the blog kidsactivitiesblog.com, Kristina, a mom, writes,
I like to keep a running list of friendship scenarios (good and bad) that come up when my kids are having play dates with their friends. Once we are home, my husband and I can role play the scenarios while our son watches, or we can include him in the positive role and have him practice positive friendship characteristics (sharing, saying kind words, sticking up for a friend, etc.).
3. Friends share interests
It may be that kids are on a baseball team together, in the same Grade 3 class at school, live across the street from one another, or are in the same Sunday School class at church. This is what gets them together, but having common interests is what will make them buddies. When they get together, your grandchild and their friend can do different things together that they both enjoy … make crafts, play dress-up, ride their bikes, run through the sprinkler, cut-out paper dolls, play Barbies, catch bugs, make-up songs, and the list goes on and on.
You can help your grandchildren and their friends explore their interests and find things in common that they enjoy doing together. Maybe if your grandchild is having trouble knowing what he and his friends can do, you can help him make a list of possible activities.
What if you grandchild doesn’t have many friends? Well, what is your grandchild interested in? They could enroll in a new class, sport or activity to meet new friends that will also share these interests.
4. Teach them to talk things out
It’s natural for friends to get into occasional disagreements … I remember a couple of big ones with my friends over Barbie clothes. We didn’t talk to each other for days!
Children need to learn that when they butt heads with one another, just like they do with their parents or brothers and sisters, it’s important to come together and talk things out. Each person can say what the problem is from their point of view, but they also need to listen as the other person expresses their version of what happened. Learning to communicate is not always an easy skill for a child, but it sure is an important one to teach. As a grandparent, you also have the opportunity to model positive communication with your family members that your grandchildren can see. The ability to talk things out will go on to serve them well as they grow up and become a spouse and parent.
My cousins would all visit my grandma’s farm at the same time each summer, and we would often find ourselves in arguments. If your grandchild and a friend/cousin are arguing, a parent or grandparent may be needed to gently guide a conversation about what led to the fight and help both kids voice their side of the story. Hopefully at the end, they will be like my cousins and me, joined at the hip again as we went off to play.
5. Read books about friendship
Books can be strong, strong teachers.
There are so many wonderful friendships portrayed in children and young adult literature. Some great books to read with your grandchildren are ones in the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel. Reading these books together will give you an opportunity to talk about Frog and Toad’s friendship and the characteristics of a good friend (generous, helpful, supportive, good listener). There is also the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. These books show how friends can be very different from one another and still get along.
There are also books specifically about being a good friend, like You Are Friendly by Todd Snow and Melodee Strong. An appropriate book will emphasize the importance of being kind, sharing, and working together to solve problems.
For older kids, I love books like Charlotte’s Web, with the friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider warming my heart. A powerful book about bullying and standing up for others that I read every year to my Grade 3 students is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
(I could write about so many wonderful books that teach about friendship, but that I think is for another post)
6. Help them learn to share
A good friend willingly shares their toys and belongings with their friends, but you may have grandkids who struggle to share. Hearing a child shrieking, “Mine! Mine!” is not the loveliest sound in the world.
Maybe encourage your grandchild to teach their friends how their possessions work (like how to build a particular Lego car or how to use the walkie-talkies), and start slowly from there. Recognize them any time they do share and ask them how it made them feel.
7. Encourage them to be “includers”
Please, please, please, teach your grandchildren to be includers.
I used to love my Grade 3 students who were includers … kids who opened their play and friendships up to invite and draw in other children who were lonely or shy into their group.
Teach your grandchildren to look for kids who are by themselves, are new, or who just look like they need a friend, and invite them to join in with whatever your grandchild is playing. Have grandkids practice/role play with you how they might invite someone to join in an activity, or what they might say to start a conversation with someone who looks lonely.
8. Help shy grandchildren or those that lack confidence around other children
- Practice a simple greeting / introduction for your grandchild to use on the playground, etc.
- Create a list of simple games, topics they know something about, or jokes your grandkids can share with other kids
- Give them opportunities to practice meeting others in a setting where they are only 1 or 2 children, like at a friend’s house, instead of at a super busy playground with 60 children running around
- Role play different scenarios in meeting new children and what they could say and do
- Participating with other kids in team-building activities like building obstacle courses, baking, making forts, or building towers with blocks are good choices. They are open-ended, require some problem solving and negotiation, and encourage communication, which are all good ways to allow less-confident children to participate
As you help guide your grandchild in learning how to be a good friend, I hope that you will become one of your grandchild’s best friends.