Guest blogger Gay Uncle Brett Berk: A friend recently wrote me asking how to deal with an issue her kindergartener is having. Apparently his "best friend" has turned-coat and become a "best enemy." Worse, the ex is now trying to incite mutiny with the boy's new closest cohort.
I've never been a fan of the "best friend" moniker for young kids' social sets, as I think it tends make inevitable just this kind of unraveling. Kids this age have a limited understanding of peer relationships, so encouraging them to pick a favorite is like trying to toilet train them before they know where their butt is. The best way to expand this knowledge is to give your child access to many friends and acquaintances through casual contact and informal and formal playdates, as well as modeling positive social interaction yourself.
It's also important not to vilify the former friend. This kind of BFF BS is probably not the result of inherent cruelty, it's more likely -- like most things with young kids -- the product of formulating responses based on a very limited repertoire. At the school I ran, we had a rule, You Can't Say You Can't Play, that required kids to allow access to anyone who wanted to join them, and ensured that a teacher would help them work through incidences of teasing or exclusion. The goal was not (only) to create a utopia, but to give kids access to real social tools as well as myriad opportunities to practice using them.
The same goals can be applied to this situation. My friend can tell her son to use words to communicate his dissatisfaction. He can be taught to let trash-talk roll off his back. He can be encouraged to form many new bonds. Remember, any problems you can't totally protect your kid from (e.g. teasing, ear infections, junk food) are best responded to not by fretting, retrenching, or attempting control, but by providing them with actionable skills for responding appropriately.
|Brett Berk, M.S. Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years--as a classroom teacher, preschool director, and research consultant--and is the author of The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting.|