Have you taught your child how to recognise a good friend?
When you write a book about the importance of choosing the right friends in school, it goes with the territory that other parents come up and tell you their concerns. Or, you know, HORROR stories. Horror stories from kids who are in primary school. Horror stories of kids behaving badly and I mean BADLY even in Prep or year one.
And what I’ve realised is that in the past week in between getting uniforms and school shoes and covering schoolbooks and finding lunchbox lids there’s a whole slew of kids and parents who are worrying about school staring next week.
And you know what the source of that anxiety is?
It’s been about friendships.
The kids were either anxious about starting a new school and making friends (totally understandable) OR they were anxious about going back into their current friendship group. A group that perhaps is not so great. A group that is perhaps making the child in question miserable.
And it made me think that perhaps we don’t talk enough to our kids about friendship. Are we actively teaching our kids how to recognise a good friend and a bad one? Are we explaining how to be a good friend yourself? How to handle the ups and downs of friendship? How to know when to leave a friendship and how to do it?
Obviously this is something I cover in detail in Find Your Tribe (and nine other thngs I wish I’d known in high school). The first chapter deals exclusively with what girls starting high school need to know about choosing the right friends. My theory being that at least 50% of whether or not you enjoy high school is based on WHO you choose to hang around.
So I thought I’d do an extract from that chapter here (see below). And I’d also include some conversation starters for parents who have children in primary school.
If you or your primary-school aged child are worried about friendships, here are some talking points. It’s worth remembering that making friends and being a good friend is a big learning curve for kids (and, er, some adults). Sometimes our kids will make bad choices. Sometimes our kids will behave badly themselves. But if we keep having these conversations, I think that’s the key to making the right decisions.
FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL KIDS: What does a good friend look and feel like …
- A good friend is someone who you love to spend time with.
- A good friend cheers you up when you’re feeling sad.
- A good friend sticks up for you if someone else is being mean in the playground.
- A good friend makes you laugh.
- A good friend is someone who is happy to take turns when it comes to deciding what to play in the playground.
- When you’re with a good friend, you feel happy and comfortable.
- A good friend doesn’t tease you or make fun of you.
- A good friend will tell you how they are feeling if they are upset.
- A good friend doesn’t make you feel sad or embarrassed.
- A good friend doesn’t lie about things or cheat at games or refuse to take turns.
- A good friend doesn’t refuse to play with you or refuse to sit with you or talk to you some days at school for no reason.
- A good friend doesn’t hit or kick or bite you.
- A good friend apologises if they hurt your feelings.
How to be a good friend:
- Smile and be friendly!
- Try to be encouraging and helpful to your friends and other kids at school.
- Be willing to take turns at games.
- Stick to the rules of the game. And don’t cheat!
- Don’t boast or tell lies.
- Don’t tease your friends (or anyone at school).
- Don’t say mean or hurtful things to your friends.
- Be direct and if something upsets you or hurts your feelings – be up front and tell your friends.
- Apologise if you hurt your friend’s feelings.
- Be a good loser if you lose at a game. Don’t get upset or angry.
- Be willing to forgive your friends if they do something that upsets you.
- Understand that all friendships have ups and downs and just because you have one small fight it doesn’t mean the friendship should be over.
FOR HIGH SCHOOL KIDS: An extract from Find Your Tribe (and 9 other things I wish I’d known in high school)
Happiness in high school, I believe, is determined by two things: having fabulous, inspiring teachers and having great friends. Now unfortunately the ‘fabulous, inspiring teachers’ thing isn’t something you can control. But if you’re lucky enough to have a few fab teachers in high school who challenge you and inspire you, who make you want to be in their classroom even on a Friday at two o’clock and who can still join in a conversation on your total addiction to the Twilight series, then count yourself extremely lucky.
The other major factor that will determine the quality of your time at high school is who you hang around. Your friends. And this is the bit you can control.
I’m going to cut to the chase: Life is too short to hang around with bitchy, negative people. So don’t. In high school you want to surround yourself with people who ‘get you’. You know, people who get your sense of humour and think you’re funny (well, most of the time – maybe not when you’re trying to see how many Tiny Teddies you can fit in your mouth). True friends are those who support your dreams, who cheer you on and who are prepared to do CPR on you when you start choking on those Tiny Teddies. They provide a soft place for you to fall and are there to comfort you (and eat cookies’n’cream ice-cream with you when you’re blue). Real friends don’t slag you off the moment your back is turned or routinely put you down or humiliate you in front of others. Real friends don’t leave you out. Instead real friends ‘have your back’ – in other words, they’re fiercely loyal and protective. My friend Franny describes finding real friends as finding your ‘tribe’ which I think is the perfect way to describe it. Your tribe are people you met who you immediately click with. People you can trust. People who see the world the way you see it. People who like the same things as you. So choose friends at school who are from your tribe and high school will be waaaaay more enjoyable.
All friendships have ups and downs and, for whatever reason, girls can be incredibly bitchy to one another for no apparent reason. But when you’ve got great friends these little spats will last for maybe a day. Not weeks. Not months. And then you’ll make up and want to get together again to plot a way for that hottie who catches your bus to finally notice you.
You know what else? You don’t need to be in the cool group to enjoy high school. Aim to be someone who is friends with all different kinds of people at school. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes calls this being a ‘floater’. Floaters do their own thing, have high self-esteem and they definitely don’t pay attention to peer pressure. Be authentic in your tastes. In other words, be who you are. Don’t change your personality or your interests or your taste just to hang around with girls who spend all their time bitching and making fun of other people.
All this sounds obvious, right? And yet many adults will tell you it took them years (and some painful friendship experiences) to finally get this lesson. For some reason, many of us spend our spare time with snarky, negative people who make us feel worthless.
And don’t think for a second that hanging around with the cool group will make you seem more attractive. There’s nothing attractive about someone who behaves like a sheep and follows a leader. You’re way better off hanging around with your tribe. After all, what’s attractive is a girl who is confident, who can laugh at herself, who smiles a lot and who exudes a generous spirit.
While we’re talking about friendship let me just say that part of having good friends is being a good friend. (Stop rolling your eyes). It’s true. Don’t bitch. Don’t be the big mouth spreading rumours. Defend your tribe when others are trying to tear them down.
Two Tribes Are Better Than One …
If possible, try and have a second group of friends or even just one great friend outside of school. Maybe you do a drama class on weekends, play a sport, are President of the People Who Hate People Who Can’t Differentiate Between You’re And Your Society, are part of a youth group, Girl Guides, yodelling. Whatever. The point is sometimes when your school friends are driving you up the wall with their Robert Pattinson obsession, it’s good to have another friend or friends outside of school that you can turn to and hang out with.
In short: Hang with your tribe.
The key is to keep company with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best. Epictetus, Greek philosopher