“We’re Going to Be Friends” – Helping Children Navigate Social Situations

Written by Katie Messelt, HFP parent

Photo : Katie and her two children on an HFP field trip. 

One of the most wonderful things of Hawthorne Family Playschool is the wealth of knowledge we have at our fingertips! Between Susan and the other parents, I feel so supported navigating this stage of parenthood. Recently I contacted Susan looking for advice. On multiple occasions, my child said to me while looking at another child, “He (or she) is not my friend.” It seemed without reason or provocation. Two times, it was someone new at the playground and another time, it was someone at school. I didn’t want to overreact because I knew at this age it’s developmentally appropriate to be testing out language and seeing how their adults respond. 

Susan responded:

I typically try to help the child articulate their underlying concern. When a young child says “you’re not my friend” or “he’s mean” or some kind of blanket statement that sounds unkind or dismissive, they’re likely reacting to a hurtful behavior– an experience in which they’ve been wronged and they could use support understanding that. 

A child may say something about not liking another child to me. I try to unearth what specific behavior they don’t like that the child has done in the past.

For example, “Oh, you don’t like when people push you. Nobody likes to be pushed.” 

“You don’t like when someone is loud near you. Sometimes ___ is loud. You can walk away to get space from loud noises when they bother you.”

When a child makes an overarching statement about another child given their upset about a prior incident (the child was rough with them, or the child knocked over something they were building), I validate the concern and then try help focus their attention on the broader reality.

For example, “Nobody likes when someone is rough with them.” Or, “It’s frustrating to have your building knocked over.”  

Then I draw attention to the child of concern’s current behavior: “It’s looks like ___ is using gentle hands right now.” Or, “It looks like ____ is building right along side of you and all the structures are safe.” The attention is on what is actually happening rather than a hurt from the past. 

Looking back on the individual situations with my son, this all made so much sense! In one instance, the child who he said was not his friend had yelled at him and it scared him. I was able to separate the past from what was happening now. I have since seen my child and the other child make a connection and play together at school. Thinking back to the situations when my son didn’t know the other children, he was really communicating that he was uncomfortable and not sure what to do. On several occasions, we role played meeting someone new. After processing this for weeks, my child saw some kids that he didn’t know start to walk near us. He said confidently, “They are going to be my friends. I am going to tell them my name.” 

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