We, Regina and Meg, didn’t grow up with a traditional schooling experience. Regina attended a one-room schoolhouse in her community while Meg was homeschooled. No matter what differences you and I may share in our individual schooling experiences, we are sure we can all come together on one thing — we want our children to have healthy friendships. Here to offer her expertise and perspective as a public school teacher is our contributor, Stephanie Spring, to give us tips on helping our children make friends at school this year.
We all know that feeling, in the pit of our stomach. It comes (or came) around once a year for most of us. Whether it was excitement, anxiousness, or flat-out terrifying , it was inevitable. Summer is winding down, everyone is prepping, and those three words are plastered on commercials, in stores, and everywhere online: Back-to-School.
For some students, it may be a pleasant feeling, one of fun and happiness of seeing friends daily. For other students, the feeling of worry is ever-present and filled with anxiety of what this year will hold. Will I get picked on this year? Will I struggle in school academically? What will be posted on social media that I will have to face once I leave my peers at school and go home?
Growing Up in Public School
I grew up going to a public school my entire life and thankfully had a wonderful experience. I was blessed with caring teachers, my Mom was involved in the school, and I had great friends. I am very thankful for the experience I had, and I value it more now than ever before. Even though I had a great experience at school, I still shed a few tears almost every night before the first day of school. (Years later I realized that I was more sad about summer ending than school starting).
A Fifth Grade Teacher’s Perspective
As a fifth grade teacher, I have seen a range of back-to-school emotions displayed on their darling little faces. I still experience the back-to-school jitters. I worry about how my classes will go, if I did all of my homework (lesson plans), and how my students will thrive academically and socially. Along with my precious students come precious parents, who desperately want to impart all that they can to ensure the success of their student.
In fifth grade especially, students are navigating their interests and friend groups constantly. They are really trying to find out who they are and where they feel their niche is. That being said, I see a lot of changes throughout the year with each student as they go about doing this.
As the school year begins, I see new friendships budding between students. New students are often navigating to their place in the new school year and a different mix of friends. At the start of the new year, certain students are overjoyed to be back in school, while others are struggling to adjust each day.
I feel excitement and joy as I observe my students developing friendships. Some students make friends easily. They find their tribe and flourish; meanwhile, a few wander about as nomads looking into the tribe and desperately wanting to be a part but never quite finding their place. I am heartbroken over the rumors I hear and the friendships that change.
Friendships are constantly forming, evolving and dissipating as we navigate through life. On the flip side, bullying is something that is also sadly real and far too prevalent within our society. From my role as a teacher, a former public school student, and hopefully a parent someday, I believe in teaching students about kindness, and think it deserves attention.
• Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.
• Most bullying happens in middle school. The most common types are verbal and social bullying.
• There is growing awareness of the problem of bullying, which may lead some to believe that bullying is increasing. However, studies suggest that rates of bullying may be declining. It still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools.
• Bullying affects all youth, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who see bullying going on. Some effects may last into adulthood.
• Bullying is not usually a simple interaction between a student who bullies and a student who is bullied. Instead, it often involves groups of students who support each other in bullying other students.
From my years of experience as a teacher, I believe there are five key elements that should be taught and practiced at home as well as at school. These skills need to be practiced and developed as the child grows.
1. Help your child be the kind of friend they want to have.
We all wish that we had an instant best friend growing up that we were guaranteed would last a lifetime. Although this happens, it’s not a common theme from childhood all the way through adulthood. As we weave in and out of friendships, one thing should always remain true: be the kind of friend you want to have. Of course, this looks quite different at various ages.
How would you want your friends to talk about you? Would you like your friends to be saying this about you?
Although friendships develop throughout the school year, the relationships outside of school are vital as well.
No one wants their child constantly worrying if their friends are still their friends from day to day. The tears that stream from friendship troubles and the devastation of untrue rumors is something no parent wants to have their child experience.
It is important to ask children what they are looking for in a friend, so they can try their best at becoming that. What they are looking for will gravitate towards them. It also instills a sense of focus and belonging for children. Having this conversation with your child can bring up a lot of great conversations along the way.
2. Have conversations with your child on a regular basis to teach them what healthy communication looks like.
Stripping away all technology and talking to face to face often leaves children (and even adults) unsure what to chat about. Going back to the basics of communication is key when trying to develop friendships. Does your child know how to introduce him/herself, actively listen, ask questions about what the other person has said?
What was your favorite/least favorite part of school today? What game did you play at recess? What are you the most proud of?
3. Simple acts of kindness matter the most.
Express to your children that manners go a long way and are appreciated more than they will ever know. A simple act of kindness will never go unnoticed (even if no one is watching). The simplest gestures of helping a student pick up their books after they have dropped them, or complimenting someone on a new shirt can instantly create a bond from the person on the receiving end. Expressing how important these are to your child (and also modeling them!) is so very important now and in the long run at developing friendships.
“Studies also have shown that adults, including parents, can help prevent bullying by keeping the lines of communication open, talking to their children about bullying, encouraging them to do what they love, modeling kindness and respect, and encouraging them to get help when they are involved in bullying or know others who need help.” —StopBullying.Gov
4. Establish a good dinner time routine.
One of my favorite things my husband and I try to do every night is sitting together at the dinner table. We talk about a variety of topics from goals we have independently or as a couple to vacations we would love to take in the future. No matter what the conversation encompasses, We talk about our day, good or bad.
We plan to continue this when we have kids someday, because we both see value in it. The conversational piece is vital. Children need to see how to carry on a conversation at dinner and in turn these skills will carry over into the lunchroom at school, the classroom, and the playground while developing friendships.Children only model after what they see. Click To Tweet
It’s also a great place to have your children talk about their day and open up about how their friendships are going. Practicing and modeling how to communicate, and parents coaching in the process, is a vital activity, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. Children will model after what they see, and we can only hope that they are able to carry what they see into healthy friendships.
5. IMPORTANT: Keep your child’s teacher in the know.
One thing I have noticed throughout my years of teaching is that at lunch, recess, and the bus ride are where most of friendship building and bullying takes place, when the teacher cannot be present.
Although most teachers recognize relationships within the classroom, we aren’t always aware of some things that go on behind the scenes. Teachers are human, and we, unfortunately can’t see every single move a child is making.
If your child is having a difficult time in the area of creating friendships or experiencing bullying, inform the teacher. It can be extremely helpful. It is essential to continue practicing the four tips mentioned above, but making a teacher aware of specific relationships between students is a great way to keep the teacher alert and serve your child the best as possible.
All we have to offer is ourselves.
Shauna Niquiest always seems to say what I think when words fail me: “…what I can do is offer myself, wholehearted and present, to walk with the people I love through the fear and the mess. That’s all any of us can do. That’s what we’re here for.”
I hope you can carry this quote into your family this school year and that your children can be the type of friend they want to have as we strive to communicate, model, and support our children now and always.
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