Friendship is the key focus of kids age 6-8, as children begin to find their place within the peer group. And building and retaining healthy friendships is highly correlated with future happiness–much more so than academic skills.
But how do children signal their desire for friendships? Some children seem to know the rules naturally, others need a little help.
Lili, age seven, approached children casting down her eyes and mumbling, “Woudyaplaywifme?” This pathetic look had been successful in bringing out protective impulses in adults, but she found that kids hardly paused to reply. When she looked up, they were walking away from her.
Every day her mother heard about Lili’s rejections. Rather than lecturing, she videotaped a school recess. Lili had wondered if her friendship difficulty might be because she had been adopted. But the videotape showed that one of the most competent girls on the playground was in Lili’s adoption group!
Together, Lili and her mother talked about that girl’s eye contact, friendly smile, and eager posture. They started role-playing, with Lili instructing Mom in friendship skills. (By instructing, she practiced herself!)
Lili learned that smiling and making eye contact are essential. They actually send a friendship message by stimulating an “approach” center in the other child’s brain. While adults are wired to help a withdrawn, needy child, other children may avoid her.
Don’t Be a Bully
Sasha was overwhelmed during school recess. He would get the frightened feeling he used to get in the orphanage. He used aggressive body postures–hands on hips and glaring eyes. After some role-play, he realized he looked this way when he felt vulnerable. He began to “check in” with recess supervisors, who reassured him that they would take good care of him. He kept pictures of his parents in his pocket. Feeling the outlines of the picture helped him relax.
Sasha learned that a negative voice tone conveys, “I would like to play with you, but you will probably reject me.” Bossy tones say, “I cannot trust you, so I will be in charge.” Once Sasha understood the message he was sending, he changed it. “Now I have friends like everybody else,” he says.
At this age children easily accept a shift in behavior. A child who is rejected in the schoolyard doesn’t have to stay that way. Kids are generally willing students; they know how important friends are.