The 2022 school year has well and truly begun. As Week 6 of Term 1 begins we are all holding our collective breath that this year will be one of uninterrupted learning and free from health issues.
At the end of last year, I wrote an article titled Look Back in Wonder …Reflect, Review, Breathe, Reconnect ….
I hope you were all able to look back at the tricky year that we all endured and take some positive messages from it. I think there was much to learn from and about our children.
Socially, our children (as we were), were isolated for periods of time at home and while online contact is marvellous it does not deliver the human connection and contact that we all need to be emotionally and socially competent. It cannot deliver the non – verbal social nuances and physical cues needed to interpret responses and signals from others and to make and keep friends.
The oft quoted statistic is that 70 % of all communication is non – verbal. This includes eye contact, facial expressions, touch, gestures, physical stance and posture, space, body language, tone and pitch. These are all the elements that children need to “read” and rely on when learning to listen, speak, decode meaning and support building relationships.
A big part of our children’s school life revolves around making friends. For some children the return to school may be difficult as they restart and re-engage with old friends and develop new friendships. They need skills for this, and they need an example. You can help. Your own family relationships provide the secure base from which to start. From an early age children observe you and your family relationships closely. At school they use this learning as a starting point for building their own friendships as they find their tribe – the other children who will give them a sense of belonging and support their feelings of self-worth and happiness.
As parents we listen to children describe their day, listen for names and activities and “read” their tone of voice. We patiently wait, prompt and review, using the names heard to ask questions. To get to know your child’s friends suggest an afterschool or weekend play, but don’t be discouraged if your child is not immediately enthusiastic. Remember it is also great for you to make new connections and friends and see the cycle of friendship continue.
As parents we can find sport and hobby groups for our children to provide other environments for nurturing friendships. Sharing interests gives children another “tribe “, exposing them to more personality types and social environments. If you are also involved, you will see how your children manage friendships and negotiate rules for play and learning.
The other side of making and keeping friendships is learning to manage conflict. Children have been role -playing social situations since their days in early learning programs and at home. Within the safety of home or an early learning centre they have practised both negative and positive roles reflecting what they have observed (sometimes embarrassingly for us adults!). In new social situations it takes time for children to read personalities, negotiate, fit – in and respond. Conflict with friends or schoolmates can be distressing for some children and a challenge to others. It can become apparent in emotional state, behaviour, sleep patterns, schoolwork and even willingness to attend school.
If you notice any of these changes talk to your child’s teacher but more importantly talk with your child. Try to do this when you are doing something together, out walking or in the car. Try to find out what the behaviour, situation or feeling is that is distressing to your child. Reflect on your own experiences as a child.
Perhaps they are being left out – try and suggest how to join in …….
maybe they are being made fun of – try to suggest other children to play with…………
perhaps they are not feeling confident – try and talk about all the things they are good at …….
Or being bullied – this is one for a meeting with the teacher……
Our children will make friends, they will find those like-minded others who will support and care for them and be their “tribe”. They may need help from time to time and they certainly need our example our love and our security.
Friendship is a gift and an enduring life skill.
As Bette Midler sang a long time ago …..You’ve Gotta to Have Friends….
Mary Digges *
Early Childhood Consultant for Angsana Education.
* Mary Digges is an early childhood teacher, lecturer, trainer, assessor and consultant in education and has long promoted bilingual and multilingual education. Mary has worked in Australia, Singapore and China.