Will you be my friend?

October 1, 2021

Supporting children through bumps in the relationship road

For young children, friendship is a source of joy, connection, and belonging. It is also the source of significant learning during these early years.

Acquiring friendship skills is a bit like 'on the job training'. Tamariki are learning how to make friends and maintain friendships through doing exactly this. The desire to connect with others is innate, but the intricacies of navigating the ‘social waters’ are developed gradually. Our role is to provide plentiful opportunities for social interaction and collaborative play, and the support for skills still-developing.

Strong, positive relationships rely on social and emotional competence the social skills, and emotional knowledge and regulation for getting on well with others. Learning these now set tamariki up for a lifetime of managing social situations, and being a good friend.

On the social side, children need to get comfortable and confident with taking turns, sharing ideas and conversation, being flexible and adaptive, and showing kindness and care, or manaaki, to others. Some of these skills will be ‘caught’ quite naturally through experience, but some skills, and some tamariki, need to be taught more directly. As adults, we are role models— young ears and eyes are always absorbing how we treat people, but we can also stay close, ready to support our young ones; not to solve conflicts for them, but to guide them how to, until these skills are secured.

The other part of this competence area is about emotions. Children will be more successful in making friends (and keeping them) when they understand, express and manage their own emotions well. Knowing their feelings and having strategies for calming themselves and ‘bouncing back’ after being upset are useful for our children as individuals, and also as social beings. They start to expand their awareness of emotions to include the feelings of others, which grows their empathy. Children who can respond to other people’s feelings with understanding and take another’s perspective have beautiful ‘friendship ingredients’ at hand.

When we support tamariki through bumps in the ‘relationship road’, we open opportunities for this perspective-taking. Realising others might think and feel differently than they do takes time. We can notice and acknowledge any shows of concern, or acts of manaakitanga (from our child, or others), and ensure we are being ‘model material’ through our own caring responses.

Children who are developing a ‘toolbox’ of language and strategies for entering play, resolving conflict, and dealing with frustration and disappointment are getting well equipped for relationships now, and in the future. Another thing we want them to have firmly in grasp is self-confidence. Confident children have an energy that other tamariki are drawn to. They will be bold in initiating and joining play because they feel good about who they are, and what they have to offer. Self-confidence doesn’t come just from being praised, as is often believed, but when a child is able to make choices, follow their interests, express their ideas, and feel heard.

Social opportunities and supportive role-modelling adults allow our children’s friendship skills to be ‘exercised’ and strengthened. This lays the foundation for a life rich in, and enriched by, relationships.

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