My son emerged from school, head hung low. Meeting him in the parking lot, I put my arms around him and asked him what was wrong. He launched into a tale of a difficult recess, a child who was unkind and feelings that were hurt. While the incident was not overwhelming, it was hard on my son.
What’s a momma to do?
As the school year begins, teachers plan for the lessons our children will learn in math and reading. We purchase the supplies and tools they need to be successful in academics. And yet, what will be learned this year extends far beyond the lesson plans. The classroom and playground interaction our children will experience offers life lessons they will carry into the future. As our culture increases the focus on the effects of bullying, how are we helping our children to nurture healthy friendships at home and at school?
Here are some things to consider:
1. Children often do not play with big groups of neighborhood kids, as they have in the past. With more kids playing inside on electronics, less practice is gained from daily interaction. Because of this, they do not learn how to negotiate or read group dynamics. They do not have to take turns choosing an activity. The absence of these basic lessons makes friendship more difficult. We need to find ways to foster relationships so that our kids can hone these relational skills.
2. We need to know our children and teach them appropriate ways to communicate with others. Whether your child is shy or boisterous, your instruction in this area is important. Quieter children need to learn how to open themselves up to others, to seek and offer friendship, and to explore the value others can bring to their lives. Active children need to be aware of how they are seen by others, to balance their activity needs with those of their friends, and find worth in quiet activities, too. And regardless of the approach our children are more comfortable with, we must teach them to respect people and be kind. Children who are taught that we all have feelings, and that it is important to protect the emotions of others, will carry that lesson into adulthood.
3. We need to advocate for our children when they are in difficult places. If your child is struggling with friendships, they need you in their corner. They need to know that you will stand up with them if they are being bullied. Teach them steps to try, and if these steps do not work, your intervention may be necessary. And if your child is bullying others, it is important that you advocate for them, too. Children who are bullying others need parents who will advocate for their future, for their friendships, by calling an end to this behavior. Bullies are screaming for boundaries. Children are most comfortable when they know the limits and are sure that they cannot overstep these bounds. Stand up for your child’s healthy, balanced future by expecting the best for him and helping him to reach that place. Helping your children to learn how to have healthy friendships is a gift that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
After I wiped my son’s tears at school that day, I asked him if he had used his words to make this bullying stop. I asked him if he had involved a playground teacher for help. I asked him if there had been problems before with the same child. He answered yes to all of these questions, so I knew that the time had come for more involvement on my part. We had a calm conversation with the parents of the child and with the child himself. With everyone in both families on the same page, this difficult behavior did not happen again. There was accountability built, communication shared, expectations extended and, in this case, bullying stopped.
As an educator and a parent, I know that when it comes to children, a lot of change occurs when parents are honest and caring with one another. I know that all kids have good days and bad days, but when they are sure that they will come home to involved parents who are leading them toward a bright future, they are far more likely to rise to that expectation.
We must work together, at school, at church, at home, to make sure that kids know where to turn for help when troubles arise. And we need to teach the importance of healthy friendship so that all of our children will have a place to belong.
What our kids learn academically at school is vital to their growth and development. But we must also teach them to nurture friendships and to care for others. When children come to understand that we were all created in God’s image, they will also learn that there is something amazing in every child.1 Corinthians 16:13-14 instructs,"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." Our relationships are blessed when we stand firmly in our faith and commit to acting in love toward all. As friendships deepen, we understand in new ways that we have been made to value connection and to live in community. We are at our best when do this in love.