The Power of Childhood Friendships

By Andrea Williams with quotes from Dr. Marian Fritzemeier, Ed.D.
Posted on: Daily Parent, August 1, 2014

Expert insight into the power of childhood friendships, for better or worse, and how to nurture friend-making skills.

Some of us can still fondly remember long summer days and recess hours spent with our closest pals, making mud pies, catching ladybugs and generally having lots of fun. As it turns out, the effects of those adolescent friendships last well into adulthood.

“Being chosen [as a friend] makes a child or teen feel affirmed, and it also expands their horizon beyond the narrow world of their nuclear family,” says Dr. Jan Yager, Ph.D., author of When Friendship Hurts. “The child or teen can become friends with someone of a different race, religion, culture or socio-economic background since their siblings will most likely be very similar to them. Friendships outside of siblings expand a child or teen’s horizons and view of the world and other families besides their own.”

Conversely, not learning to develop solid friendships can negatively affect a child’s future, as Yager notes that kids who spend too much time alone can become lonely teens and adults and even begin to develop signs of depression. Truly, we live in an interconnected world, and whether it relates to effectively completing group assignments in high school or college, or securing a job post-graduation and being able to work collaboratively with colleagues, it’s important that we encourage our children to develop strong, meaningful friendships. Here’s how:

Teach kids how to be good friends.

Anyone who’s had a relationship with an overly needy or inconsiderate person knows that being a great friend to others has become a bit of a lost art. Teach your kids now how to treat others well, and you won’t ever have to worry about them being alone later. “Kids can learn to model great friendships when they are given the tools for experiencing empathy,” says parenting expert Natalie Blais. “The power of empathy has a deep and lasting impression on kids because they are not yet clouded with disappointment like adults are. Kids are constantly filled with wonder when it comes to emotion, and empathy is an experience kids must learn to master.”

Dr. Marian Fritzemeier, Ed.D, an education and child development expert agrees, adding that it is up to parents to model the kind of behavior that they expect their kids to develop. “Role modeling is significant,” she says. “How parents interact with their children and their children’s friends helps them learn positive friendship skills. For example, if friends come over, the parent may suggest, ‘Emily, maybe your friends would like a snack. I can help you.’ Over time, sharing a snack becomes automatic.”

Encourage kids to seek out children who need friends.

Though cell phones have replaced land lines, and kids may actually spend more time communicating with each other via social media than face-to-face, little else has changed in the world of childhood friendships. On any playground across the country, you’re likely to find a group or clique, of popular, outgoing kids along with a smattering of quiet, more introverted kids who hang solo.

“My son is going into third grade in September, and we spent the entire year of second grade learning how to find kids who need someone to be a friend to them,” says Blais. “At the end of each day, I ask my son if he had the opportunity to be kind to someone that day. I make sure I have him consistently thinking about and looking for the chance to be kind to someone and reach out to him. Often, parents ask their kids how the day was, but they rarely ask their kids how they genuinely plugged into the situation around them and searched out the kids who needed them most.”

Get involved.

If your child is introverted, it’s important that you step in and help her begin to interact with others. The key, though, is not to push her too far outside of her comfort zone. “Years ago it was believed that children develop a temperament by age 3, but most research shows that children are born with an individual temperament,” Fritzemeier explains. “Some will be naturally outgoing and noisy, while others may be quiet and reserved. Parents who push their children to become someone they are not only increases the children’s stress levels, but as children get older, she can begin to question if her parents want them to be more like them or a sibling.”

Yager suggests parents arrange playdates for their kids (even through the elementary years) and enroll preschool-aged children in classes like Mommy and Me or Gymboree to help foster new friendships. Additionally, adds Fritzemeier, bringing a toy or pet can serve as an icebreaker and help draw other kids to your child. Also, when choosing other children to arrange playdates with, it’s important to try to find kids whose temperaments match that of your child, so she is not overwhelmed by an outgoing or boisterous personality.

Intervene when necessary.

Eventually, as your child ages and becomes more adept at interacting with others, she is bound to get involved in an unhealthy friendship. Parents, then, must toe the line between allowing their kids to be proactive in choosing their own relationships while also protecting them from significant hurt or danger. “Being a parent means taking the time to get to know the kids your child is spending time with,” says Dr. Tina Tessina, Ph.D., LMFT. You need to know their parents and hang out with them. Driving [your children’s friends] places and listening to what they talk about in the car while you’re driving is a great way to get a sense of who they are. This is most easily done while your kids are small; once they’re teens, you have a lot less control.”

If you do discover that your child is hanging out with someone she shouldn’t, Tessina suggests deftly steering her toward more positive influences without damaging your relationship with your child. “It’s best not to say bad things about the friends you don’t like; it will set you and your children against each other,” she explains. “This is why it’s so important to pay attention early on: you want to intervene before your child is too attached to someone. The best tactic is to find something your child is interested in and allow her to get involved, and distract your child from the undesirable friends. It also helps to find out what your child is getting out of the friendship. Is there some kind of acceptance for something you child feels bad about? Perhaps there’s something you don’t understand.”

Ultimately, though, if you’ve taken the time to show your child how to be a good friend and helped her to develop solid friendships while she’s young, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Adds Tessina, “If you set up a good parameter, you can let your child make choices, because there won’t be any bad ones.”

Published in: dailyparent.com/articles/the-power-of-childhood-friendships

What is Bullying?

How would you describe bullying? Has your child been bullied? Have you? When I taught a workshop at the California Association for the Education of Young Children (CAEYC) in Pasadena for adults working with children in the primary grades. 

Over 50 educators actively participated in my workshop: Bullying 101: Helping the Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: How Educators Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.

The two months I spent preparing for this workshop were emotionally challenging. It was difficult to read books, research, and view videos about what’s happening on elementary campuses. As I read about bullying definitions, I often thought of the squabbles I observe weekly between five-year olds.

When a peer doesn’t do what their friend wants, I hear, “You’re not going to be my friend anymore,” or, “You’re not invited to my birthday party.” If they are really upset, they might say both sentences together. So is this bullying?

Bullying Definition. Although there are numerous bullying definitions, I chose this one because it contains multiple aspects. Three criteria distinguish bullying from other misbehaviors or isolated cases of aggression.

1. “It is aggressive behavior or intentional harm doing.

2. It is carried out repeatedly and over time.

3. It occurs within an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of power.” 1, p. 232

Are the squabbling five-year olds bullying? Their behavior is not always aggressive but they are saying these things to express frustration. Most likely, it is the meanest thing they know so say. The words are intentional, although very short lived. Later, they are once again friends and get re-invited to the party.

Yes, it is carried out repeatedly over time, but by different children. It isn’t only one or two children who make these threats against certain children. It seems to be a regular part of their interactions as they learn more appropriate social skills. Is it acceptable? To me, it is not. I’d like the teacher to intervene and explain how that hurts others’ feelings and how to state their frustration in a more specific way. “I don’t like it when you take my cars.”

Finally, is there an imbalance in power? An imbalance of power could be by size, age, or abilities. Although the children are all different, I don’t observe an imbalance of power. In this situation, I’d say that the children are not bullying, but learning how to express themselves; however, they need more adult guidance. What do you think? Are the children being bullied?

Source:

1. Hirsch, Lee & Lowen, Cynthia with Santorelli, Dina (Editors). Bully: An Action Plan for Teachers, Parents, and Communities to Combat the Bullying Crisis. [Companion to the Acclaimed Film Bully] New York: Weinstein Books, 2012, p. 232. 2. Image Source: bully-oppression [Pixabay.com]

Pretend and Imaginative Play

My three-year-old grandson, Parker, gravitates towards playthings with push buttons while we stroll down the toy aisle. He hopes the buttons will make sounds and “talk” to him. As a child development specialist, I’m not too thrilled with his fascination because these toys don’t leave much to the imagination.

“Grams, this one doesn’t make any noise,” he comments rather confused.

“You’re right Parker, it doesn’t. You have to use your imagination. You can pretend and make the stuffed dog say anything you want.” I’ve given an interesting concept to a child living in a computer-generated world where imagination is virtually untapped.

Benefits. Pretend play helps children gain developmental benefits including creativity, imagination, self-confidence, mastering new concepts, and communication skills. So how can parents encourage pretend and imaginative play in a technological world? Provide open-ended toys and materials, dramatic play items, games, and interactions that facilitate children’s play.

Open-Ended Toys. Choose “open-ended” toys and materials. This means toys that offer different ways children can play with them. Examples of open-ended play items are blocks, cardboard boxes, wooden train sets, dress-up clothes, play dough, and art materials. Items children can build and create anything they dream of are ideal for imagination, such as: Duplos, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Mega Blocks, and magnetic blocks. One day a child builds a zoo while another time he/she constructs a ferry.

Dramatic Play. Another way parents can enhance children’s imaginations is through dramatic play. Building forts, houses, hospitals, and stores using common household items provides infinite creativity and pretending. Sheets, blankets, pillows, cardboard boxes, large appliance boxes, stools, chairs, and boards are great materials.

Children can also imitate real-life events to advance pretend play. For example, if the dog goes to the vet, children can invent a pet hospital at home. Set up a dentist’s office, doctor’s office, grocery store, classroom, hair salon, pet store, or auto shop. The possibilities are endless.

Dress-up Clothes. Children also enjoy dress up clothes in adult sizes that you can discover at used clothing stores, such as Goodwill. Choose items that represent both genders as well as clothes from different cultures. You’ll enjoy watching your children try “adult” roles as they express themselves in pretend play.

Games. Games provide another way for expressing imagination. Once children learn rules to traditional board games ask them to create a new game with different rules. You can also provide children with common game items and ask them to create a new game. “What kind of game can we play with a Frisbee and a ball?” You’ll be amazed at how much fun they’ll cultivate for your family

Benefits. Finally, talking to children while they play not only promotes children’s vocabulary, communication skills, and storytelling, but helps children’s imaginations. Suggestions like, “What else can you build?” or “How can you make your store higher?” stretches children’s problem solving abilities and the beginnings of abstract thinking. Puppets are another great way to facilitate pretend play and vocabulary. A chair with a towel over it becomes a puppet stage.

Encouraging your children to use their imaginations by providing a wide variety of play items and interactions will build skills that will last a lifetime.

 

“Feeling Inadequate? Watch Children” Hope Street: My Journey

DSC_0418

Parker’s First Attempt at Caber Toss in Modesto 2014

Do you ever feel inadequate? Some days everything seems difficult. Simple things like opening a sealed bag or putting on my necklace are challenging because my coordination is poor. Other times I can’t find the right word or can’t even express a sentence when my brain is off. Yes, me, Chatty Cathy.

I read a book that has many thought provoking statements. Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. Mc Nair Wilson. He did in fact work for Disney as an Imagineer.

“If you feel in adequate, watch children. They are highly unskilled at pretty much everything they try. But they try everything. They don’t listen to maturity’s hot air about being responsible, careful, or correct. Instead they fill their lives with hot dreams and imagination and fly to the stars…They roll down grassy slopes, basking in the moon-glow and starlight of endless possibilities.” (p. 68)

What a great description of childhood. It is one reason I love being around them. After I was unable to work at Merced College, I missed watching children every day as they came and went from the Child Development Center. So I began volunteering in my grandson Parker’s preschool class six years ago. What a delight to be with him and his friends. They are constantly trying something new.

On Saturday my husband participated as an athlete in the Modesto Highland Games. One event is the caber. My daughter calls it, “Man in skirt with telephone pole.” Six to twelve year olds could sign up to learn. Parker is not quite six, so they let him “practice” two times after the older kids were done.

He’d never turned a caber before. He may have seen it on a video. His Papa hadn’t yet done that event. But he wanted to try. And try he did. He was able to turn it on the first toss. He was so proud of himself. I was proud of him too. Not so much that he turned it, but because he was willing to try even in front of a large group.

If they offered adults to try and turn the caber, I’m guessing there would be few volunteers. Why? McNair summaries the answer best, “…we do not live our dreams because we’re too busy living out our fears.” (p. 66) Parker was not even remotely afraid. He didn’t wonder what others would think. He didn’t hold back in case he couldn’t do it. He didn’t doubt himself. He just went for it. What’s the “caber” in your life you’d like to try? Maybe you can try it today.

(Village Books, 2012)

 

Let’s Make a Deal

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All of us have situations in which there aren’t any choices, like work requirements. Children need to learn that they don’t always have a choice. Sometimes decisions are made by parents or other adults.

Safety Reasons

For example, parents are responsible for their children’s safety. Dr. Sue Grossman, Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan reminds parents that children can’t play with everything, like the stove or burner controls when helping make cookies. (1)

Primary and Secondary Decisions

Sometimes they can’t do something because of time constraints, like when parents need to drop the children off at pre-school and get to work. Parents make the primary decision, it’s time to get ready, but then children can make subsequent, secondary choices, like what to wear or whether they want to pour in flour or chocolate chips for the cookies.

Accepting No

Dr. Grossman adds, “When children know that they will be given sufficient opportunities to choose for themselves, they are more willing to accept those important ‘no choice’ decisions adults must make for them.” (1)

Source:

1. Offering Children Choices: Encouraging Autonomy and Learning While Minimizing Conflicts, Sue Grossman, Ph.D., Early Childhood News, 2007. www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?…607. Accessed 3/25/2014.

“Lessons Learned From Dancing Dog” Hope Street: My Journey

Dancing Dog in Front Pack

It is 108°. The A/C is still not working. It’s really too hot to do much of anything. I can’t get much done sitting in front of the fan, so I sweat through the day doing what I can. I certainly can’t ride my bike in this heat. I’m going to ride in the morning.

But that’s my prime writing time, I argue with myself. But if I don’t, I won’t be primed to ride 40 miles at the Clear Lake Konocti Challenge in October.

I get up twenty minutes earlier. Throw on old clothes. Feed the dog. Feed the fish. Drink my Boost. Get my water. All I need now are my shoes and helmet.

As I reach toward my bike shoes on the closet floor, I notice Dancing Dog. She’s so excited anticipating that I’ll take her on my bike ride, she pirouettes. Again. And again. And again.

“Do you want to go on ride?” She pirouettes even faster; then races down the hallway towards the closet that stores her front pack, like a front pack you’d use with a young baby.

“Stop dancing so I can put you in your pack.” Then we’re off for a morning ride. Dancing Dog takes it all in. She observes what’s going on, smells the fresh air, and holds her head high while the wind blows on her face. She’s simply taking in the moment as she rides along in my front pack.

I’m still grumbling. I’d rather ride in the late afternoon. I’m missing my writing time. Then I restate the truth. I’m delaying my writing time. I will write after my eight-mile ride.

With the writing dilemma settled, I focus on my ride and am in the moment, just like Dancing Dog.

“Dancing Dog, do you see the kitty?… Hi kitty cat,” I sing-song as if both animals will answer. I’m now aware of the birds’ songs in the quiet neighborhood. I observe a breeze, just enough to keep me comfortable.

Ahh, this is why I like bike riding. I’m in the fresh air enjoying God’s nature and beauty. Oh yeah, and getting some exercise too.

Before I know it, we’re heading home. After I cool down, I write. And Dancing Dog? She’s lying next to me, living in the moment, yet anticipating our next adventure.

 

Is Your Child a Quitter?

Do you wonder if your child is a quitter? Does it seem like your son or daughter begin something gung ho and then loses interest? 

Parents can help prevent children from quitting by teaching their children decision making skills and follow through. When our six-year-old daughter wanted to play soccer, we discussed with her what the commitment would involve before she made a choice.

Discussion Questions. For example, if your son or daughter wants to play sports, what will the schedule be and for how long? Does the child want to get up early for sports and give up part of the weekend? How many days a week and what times are practice? How will the child fit this in with other activities and homework? When all the details are gathered and explained, then the child can make an informed decision.   

New Skills. This dialogue begins equipping your child with decision making skills and responsibility for follow through. Is this an activity the child enjoys or is it something the parents want? The child understands that he/she is expected to finish the entire sports season.

Finish Up. If it involves an entire school year, such as playing a violin in the school orchestra, the child will continue lessons until the end of the school year even if their practice sounds horrific! If they don’t like the activity after the season or year, they can choose something different the next time. Equipping your child with decision making skills not only gives them a better chance of follow through, they learn vital life skills.

7 Reasons I’ll Never Be a “Real” Bike Rider

I found this blog that I wrote four years ago. Nothing’s changed, but I still enjoy riding my bike.

1. I’d rather have a practical kick stand than have to lay my bike down just anywhere.

Hershey chocolate bar for breakfast

Hershey’s chocolate bar for breakfast in Palm Desert

2. I’m not competitive; I ride for fun.

3. I can’t drink water out of a sports bottle without falling off my bike.

4. I use paper and pencil to track my miles, times, and speeds.

5. Check order when I fall off my bike: No broken nails! Am I hurt? Oh yeah, is the bike okay?

6. I’d rather eat a real chocolate candy bar than GU energy gel. (See photo)

7. I ask, “Do I need to ride faster?”

P.S. Maybe there’s hope for me. I laid my bike down to take a photo. Just had to get a shot of a wading bird!

 

Yard Duty and Campus Supervisors Serve on Campus’ Front Lines

This week I had the privilege of training yard duty for Modesto City Schools for two days and one day for campus supervisors. In honor of their dedication to students and the start of another school year, I’m re-posting this blog. Thanks for your investment in our community’s children.

The men and women whose job title is, “Yard Duty” or “Campus Supervisor,” don’t get near the recognition they deserve. Yard duty are on the “front lines” of our elementary schools while campus supervisors are on the “front lines” of junior and senior high schools.

If you want to know what’s happening at your local school site, they know. They know because they spend time with students while they’re not in classes. This includes time before school, passing periods, recesses, lunches, and after school. They are amongst different groups of students most of the day.

Changes. During the summer 2015, Modesto City Schools changed work hours and the number of yard duty at many sites. I have the privilege of working with many of the employees in these roles at 16 school sites. Yard duty and campus supervisors have a huge sphere of influence. It’s the reason so many restorative practices training hours are invested in them.

Why do they do this kind of work? A large number of them wanted to work, but also wanted to be around their own children. At last week’s training, one site had four of six yard duty who began working when their children started elementary school. Their children are now attending junior and senior high schools, but they’re still there. Why? They enjoy working with students and making a difference in their lives.

At Work. I wish you could see yard duty and campus supervisors interact with our young people. Last December, my husband had that opportunity. Our granddaughter, Khloe, was having tubes in her ears so our grandson, Parker, stayed with us. Papa took him to school in the morning. He asks, “Parker, where do I drop you off?”

“Just drive by the front and I get out,” he explains. Papa drives his car through the parking lot. A yard duty approaches the car and opens Parker’s door.

“Hi Parker. How are you? Where’s Khloe today?” she asks.

Nurturing School Climate. My husband was so impressed that she knew each of our grandchildren and called them by name. I was too. But I shouldn’t have been. Greeting each student by name is recommended as part of a positive and nurturing school climate – helping each student feel welcome and cared for at school.

Next time you see a yard duty or campus supervisor, I’m sure they’d appreciate a few kind words. After all, they have a significant impact on our students every day.

 

Image source: TK3401_and_TK3501D [commons.wikimedia.org]

Choices: Fast Food or Leftovers?

While reading the latest magazine and waiting for an x-ray at the busy clinic, an eight-year-old girl

hamburger-1198649-swith dark eyes and a curly brown ponytail catches my attention. Anything is more interesting than a magazine a few years old that no one has bothered to steal yet. The girl whispers a secret in her friend’s ear; they both giggle.

Anticipating an afternoon playing together, the mother casually inquires, “What do you want for lunch?”

Their faces beam as they simultaneously declare, “McDonald’s!”

Of course they want McDonald’s. What kid doesn’t?

“Well, we’re going to have leftovers from last night,” the mother casually comments.

The girls’ smiles fade.

No Intention. Leftovers, I ponder. Who wants leftovers when you think you’re going to get McDonald’s? My joy observing the girls dwindles. Another parent giving children a choice while she never intends to let them choose. It won’t be the last time I witness this dilemma.

In my last blog, At What Age? the key question was, how are you intentionally allowing your child to make increasingly more choices and God honoring decisions as he or she launches into adulthood? Today we’ll explore giving children choices, benefits of choices, and building basic decision making skills.

Making Choices. Learning to make choices actually begins in toddlerhood. Parents and caregivers can offer simple, either-or choices to children. “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt?” “Would you like yogurt or applesauce for snack?” Even toddlers can point to what they want. “Choices offered to young children must be legitimate and meaningful to them and acceptable to adults,” explains Dr. Sue Grossman in Early Childhood News. 1

Follow Through. Don’t give a choice if you don’t intend to follow through. The mother in the waiting room could have stated, “We have leftover casserole and macaroni salad for lunch today. Would you girls like to eat lunch outside on a picnic blanket or in the kitchen after our appointment?”

Simple Choices. In preschool, children can begin choosing from more than two options. My four-year-old grandson loves grocery shopping with Grams. Besides organizing the shelves, he proudly selects juice from a number of varieties or yogurt flavors. “Limiting the quantity of choices is actually helping your child be successful in the decision-making process,” notes Dr. Alexandra Delis-Abrams, author of Children, Choices, and Consequences. 2

Avoiding “NO.” In an effort to increase children’s choices, sometimes parents give children more choices than they’re developmentally ready for or are beyond their cognitive abilities. For example, “Do you want to go to bed now?” will most assuredly be answered, “No.” Where do you want to go on vacation may be answered, “Disneyland!” while you’re planning on a camping budget.

Contribute to Choices. Children do not get to make every choice, however, within many parent-made decisions, children can still contribute to choices. “Next week we’re going on a family campout. Do you want to go fishing, boating, hiking or swimming on Saturday?” “Do you want me to read you a story or would you like to read for ten minutes on your own before the lights go out?” Our daughters became so accustomed to making choices, that sometimes our response was, “This is not, Let’s Make a Deal. This is a parent decision.”

Choosing Activities. As children enter elementary school, helping them determine outcomes of choices becomes imperative. “I want to play soccer this year,” our six-year-old daughter shares. “It looks like fun.” But what does she really know about being on a soccer team? “Too many times a child is given the power to make the decision without the information first,” notes the founder of ABC Feelings. 2

Engaging Questions. Does my daughter understand that she must practice three times a week? Does she recognize that a coach will be teaching her how to play? What does she comprehend about teamwork, winning, and losing? Have we explained that if she chooses to play she’s expected to complete the twelve-week season? Although this may sound overwhelming for children, this discussion develops reasoning skills and accepting personal responsibility for choices which will serve them well for a lifetime.

Problem Solving. Helping school-age children determine possibilities before adolescence is invaluable and builds strong problem-solving foundations. Asking situational questions like, “What would you do if a stranger asked you to help him find his kitty?” to “What do you think about the decision Joey made on TV last night?” require critical thinking skills. Setting up situational scenarios and asking thought-provoking questions play a critical role in adolescence when the stakes are higher and the costs are greater.

“You are capable.” Allowing children to make choices helps them developmentally in several ways. Children build autonomy, a fancy word for independence. Adults make so many decisions for children, that when children get to choose they possess a sense of control. They feel validated when parents and other adults send the message, “You are capable. What you say is important and matters.” Training in problem solving empowers children for future decision-making. Children are more committed when they’ve made the choice for themselves.

Fond Memories. Our daughter chose soccer year after year. She even played a few winter sessions in the mud and rain, her favorite way to play. When my husband and I see children in soccer uniforms on fall Saturday mornings, it brings back fond memories…. watching her valiantly defending the goal, her excitement when she wins, and forming strong friendships. Then we remember the year she chose not to play soccer. And that’s another story.

Sources:

1. Dr. Sue Grossman, Ph.D. Offering Children Choices: Encouraging Autonomy and Learning While Minimizing Conflict, Early Childhood News. www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychldhood/article_print.aspx. Accessed June 20, 2012.

2. Alexandra Delis-Abrams, Ph.D. Children, Choices, and Consequences. www.abcfeelings.com Accessed June 20, 2012.