Kindergarten Know-How: Fostering Friendships

“I love coming to church, ‘cause I get to see my friends!” Trevor announced to his mom as they entered the children’s area. As Trevor walked into his kindergarten classroom, he immediately greeted Caleb and Mei. They invited Trevor to help build a tall block tower; then he regaled his friends with a new joke.

At ages 5 and 6, children typically love to make friends and to be with friends. They thrive on the encouragement and praise of key adults. In his popular book, Yardsticks, Chip Wood summarizes, “The importance of friends now rivals the importance of parents and teachers in the child’s social development. Classrooms full of six-year-olds are busy, noisy places. Talking, humming, whistling, bustling is the order of the day” (p. 59).

God’s Wisdom
Children need to belong; they desire to be included with peers. Kindergarteners need to enjoy healthy outside-the-home relationships. Learning how to have great friendships begins with BEING a great friend. For young children, wonderful, adventurous play times will inevitably be peppered with moments of conflict. “Bad-itudes” occasionally arise in all friendships. Resolving them properly determines whether or not friendship grows!

“Love” is the key motivation for friendships to remain strong. Take a fresh look at the Bible’s “love chapter.” Read the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with “loving friendships” in mind!

Friends are patient and kind
a friend does not envy or boast;
Friends are not arrogant or rude.

Friends do not insist on their own way;
they are not irritable or resentful
They do not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth.
Friends bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

Five Friendship Skills
For young children, learning how to treat others is an “in-process” skill. How can mentors, parents, and leaders help each child selflessly love others? We must first understand the challenges that kindergartners typically face as they grow up. Look of opportunities to build these five dynamics:

1. Empathy
Caleb grew frustrated with Trevor as the rules of his game were not followed—no one seemed to be listening. An argument erupted as Trevor showed no desire to play the game Caleb’s way. Clearly upset, Caleb ran to the corner with his shoulders slumped. Seeing Caleb’s sadness, Mei came over to offer support and encouragement. A small group soon surrounded Caleb.

Many kindergarten students have a hard time showing empathy or “putting themselves in others shoes.” This is especially difficult when the outcome of the conflict affects them directly. Mei, however, who was an outsider to the conflict, rallied to offer her friend wonderful support. The conflict did not directly affect Mei, so she was able to comfort Caleb. The skill of “showing empathy” often develops dramatically at this age. Kindergarteners begin to see other points of view.

2. Tone of Voice
Shonda struggled with controlling her sharp or harsh tone of voice. Although she was not upset, she would often say things in an intense, shrill, or caustic manner. This led to hurt and confusion with friends and family. When Shonda’s parents learned to gently point out the discordant tone, Shonda promptly apologized and tried again—more softly!

Young children are learning how to listen. They are finding ways to communicate with kindness. Practice sessions with family and mentors help immensely!Young children are learning how to listen. They are finding ways to communicate with kindness. Practice sessions with family and mentors help immensely!

3. Cooperation Not Competition
Denise divided her children into competing teams to answer review questions from the Bible lesson. She noticed that 5-year-old José was especially focused on answering the questions—he wanted to win! When time ran out, the teams were tied. Denise excitedly announced that the game ended in a tie. To her great surprise, José was in tears! As the children transitioned to small groups, Denise went over to console José. Through tears, he declared, “There has to be a winner!” After a big hug and five agonizing minutes of processing emotions, José slowly calmed down. The lack of a clear winner had thrown him out-of-sorts.

Competitive situations can introduce difficulties for five-and six-year-olds. Winning, losing, or tying can detonate emotions that they are just learning how to navigate. Cooperative activities promote friendships. Competition promotes comparisons and hierarchies. Harness the industrious, curious nature of kindergarteners by avoiding overly competitive situations. Instead, encourage them to perform activities together!Competitive situations can introduce difficulties for five-and six-year-olds. Winning, losing, or tying can detonate emotions that they are just learning how to navigate. Cooperative activities promote friendships. Competition promotes comparisons and hierarchies. Harness the industrious, curious nature of kindergarteners by avoiding overly competitive situations. Instead, encourage them to perform activities together!

4. Social Dynamics
Andrea loved to tell her friends “knock-knock” jokes. She especially loved the “interrupting cow” (“Knock-knock.” “Who’s there?” “Interrupting cow.” “Interrupting cow, w—” “Moooooo!”). Andrea struggles with up-and-down emotions. When a friend did not respond kindly to Andrea’s joke, her first response was an outburst—which surprised Andrea and her teacher!

Socially, kindergarten children love to ask questions, make jokes, and explain things. However, many struggle with being domineering or controlling; they enjoy choosing rules that others will follow! These students need to learn how to express emotions in respectful ways—without being overbearing. Make use of teachable moments during craft time, transitions, free play, and structured group time.

5. Friend Groups
Maya and Grace were glad when a new girl moved into their neighborhood. Carlita soon joined their after-school play dates; she even started attending Sunday school with the pair. Before long, however, conflict arose. Inevitably, one of the girls felt “left out.” Maya wanted to lead, and Grace sided with her when Carly disagreed. This power struggle led to arguments and hurt feelings.

Children often have several important friends at the same time. They might play in pairs, trios, or small groups. Often, 5-and 6-year-olds have a “best friend” who they gravitate towards in social settings. These children will enjoy playing, conversing, and being together in social settings.

Typically, a high degree of conflict will arise from this close-knit friendship. This is normal! As children have conflicts, seek to empower the friends or the group to solve the problem before you step in. Children are especially motivated to work out problems with friends they truly care about! Be available as children find solutions together, but allow them space to problem solve before immediately stepping in. If they do get stuck, step in with ideas and solutions.

Friendships take time to grow strong. Learning how to be a wonderful friend takes time as well. Your busy, fun, and social kindergarten classroom can be a positive environment where children learn how to interact with each other, adults, and with God!

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Wood, Chip “Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14”, Northeast Foundation for Children, 1999, p. 41-97.
Trent, John, Ph.D., et al, “Spiritual Growth of Children” by Focus on the Family, Tyndale House Publishers, 2000, p.115-127.
May, Scottie, et al. “Children Matter: Celebrating their Place in the Church, Family, and Community, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005, p. 132-138.

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