Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Does Friendship Have to be a Puzzle?

The title of this blog post was also the title of my bulletin board. The inspiration arose due to the number of students I see who struggle to solve friendship problems without adult intervention. And, while I have witnessed what I believe to be benefits to an all-girls education, I've come to understand that the male population can, at times, buffer some of the "drama" that seems to unfold more frequently among even the youngest of females. I wrote a blog post entitled, "Peace Be With You and Begins With You," earlier in the year, that goes into greater detail about the kinds of behaviors that are commonplace in girl world. 

Grade 4 students are used to the "roller coaster" metaphor when speaking about friendships, which is why they were asked to complete a puzzle activity (see above) outlining what they believe to be important characteristics of friends. The activity was taken from a curriculum I've come to really love, called The Ophelia Project: Kids Helping Kids. Most chose similar attributes and discussed how friendships tend to become more meaningful the older they (we) get. Last year, I utilized another activity from The Ophelia Project, but this time it was from the "Let's Be Friends," program designed for grades 2 and 3. The girls were asked to come up with their "friendship recipe," as if they could create a friend using a perfect combination of "ingredients." Here are two of my favorites from Olivia O. (3A) and Kaho (3A). 
Perhaps the most challenging thing about friendships is solving the conflicts that arise and knowing when maybe a friendship isn't quite working out the way you had hoped or the way it once had. Well-intentioned parents often try to guide their children in the right direction when it comes to their relationships, and want to offer sound advice. Sometimes, though, active listening can be a better strategy, rather than simply offering solutions or taking action to fix the problem for them. Throw in some questions that allow them to take different perspectives and see the conflict through a different lens and POOF: you've got kids who are building the skills necessary to more easily get through these rough friendship patches. I believe it's also important to remember that arguing/fighting IS important, not only because it's inevitable, but because it allows your child valuable practice opportunities for solving their relationship problems. Dr. Laura Markam, author of "Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting" said it best with this statement: "Children need to develop their voices, learn how to express their needs, and try out strategies to meet their goals." In short, they have to figure out what words for them and learn from their mistakes. And, like us, they'll make plenty of them!

A few resources to help parents know how to better guide their kids in the social world include ahaparenting (complete with many recommended books at the bottom of the page) and pbs.org, which specifically targets girl issues. Books can also be really valuable when trying to teach kids about conflict resolution and pro-social coping skills. One book by Madonna titled, "The English Roses," has been a hit with many of my students. For older students, the Chicken Soup series is great, and several can be found in our ES media center. I also really like the books pictured below, that happen to live in my office. 
When reading books to and with your children, asking thought-provoking questions has two benefits: it can encourage their comprehension and ability to self-reflect on their own experiences. "Can you tell me a time about when this happened to you?" or "Wow, this character is having a big problem. How do you think you would have handled it?" and, "What could the character have done differently that would have changed the story?" are just a few examples of the kinds of queries you can give. I always find it amazing the kinds of responses that kids have and their eagerness to make a connection or share instances when they've gone through something similar. 

Parents and teachers, what successful strategies have you used to teach your kids about friendships and conflict resolution? 

~Ms. Carnright :)

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