On Childhood Friendships

A while back I read a post on a community listserv (Arlington, MA) that resonated with me.  

A mother wrote about a predicament that her pre-school daughter was in.   She was reaching out to get advice.

The story:  Her daughter wanted to be friends with a group of three girls who were best friends.   The group was not including her daughter in their circle.

The questions:  The mother wanted to know if this was bullying. She also wanted to know how to get the other girls to be friends with her daughter.

I was struck by her honesty and openness about a painful and complicated dynamic.  Friendship is an area of expertise of mine ever since graduate school (see below for more).

My response to her and all the parents out there who are worried about how to guide their children in their relationships with their peers:

Friendship is a sticky wicket. Always has been. Always will be.

When I was in graduate school in the early 1980’s, my internship was working with a professor who was researching friendship. What I found as her “researcher” was that there was NO writings — professional or self-help’ish — regarding friendship. As a result, I have found friendship to be a passion area, always amazed by it and the various configurations these key relationships form, survive, thrive and/or end.

What these girls are doing is being little girls.

It sounds like they are living in the current culture where everyone acts like a teen in a snit.

They sound like they are being competitive in ways that girls are competitive. Ramp that up with the culture of celebrity and technology and you have a toxic mix.

The girls who are in class with your daughter know each other. They have established their “people” and are sticking with them. This is group dynamics. Unpleasant and not inclusive, but it is human nature.

Like many little girls, your daughter is drawn to the “hard to get” people. It will play out in later years as dating the wrong guys. Growing up will help, with real world experiences of being hurt by peers. She will also have help/love from her parents and other adults and peers who your daughter wants to be friends with and who want to be friends with her.

What the other kids may not be experiencing is being taught about how to be a friend. Telling kids to all get along doesn’t work as a real solution. We all DO NOT get along. It’s about how to handle getting along and not getting along with people.

I would offer, regarding your child, ask her what she thinks a “friend” means to her. What does she like to do with another person? What does she like about the people she currently likes? Ask yourself what can you share with her to help her understand that she can’t be friends with everyone. Lead her by focussing on her and how she makes friends and learns how to treat other people.

Bullying is a STRONG word. It implies an intentional act. Some girls are more spicey and less sugary and this is not bullying.

Let’s give these little girls the benefit of the doubt and understand they like each other a lot and that they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how to choose to be kind and caring to everyone and teach them what “friend” means.

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