I remember walking into my son’s kindergarten preview class, where teachers would walk parents and new kindergarteners through a typical day. Excited and a bit anxious, I remember listening to these sweet teachers talk. They started referring to the class as “friends.” For example, after introducing themselves, they asked the kids to turn to their friends around them and introduce themselves. At first, I thought it was a cute way to break the ice and enable kiddos to feel more friendly toward one another. Throughout the years, I’ve heard many teachers refer to my child’s classmates as their “friends.”
It really wasn’t until my son came home from school one day troubled about one of his “friends.” He told me that this friend wasn’t very nice to him and didn’t ever want to play with him. Knowing that this kiddo and mine had quite a few troubles throughout the year, I said that sometimes we find people we don’t get along with and that’s okay. We can still be kind, but we don’t have to be friends. I’ll never forget the confused look he gave me when he said “But Mrs. S says we’re friends. Why does she call everyone that if I’m not friends with them?”
My child was intently listening to the words of his teachers (as he should) and being the detailed kid he is, he wasn’t just hearing a word and glossing over it, he internalized it. To him, however, that meant that sometimes we have friends that don’t like us and are mean to us. In other words, calling his classmates friends meant he was learning the incorrect definition of friendship. Additionally, what he was learning about social relationships directly conflicted with what I taught him at home.
One of the more challenging parts of being a parent, I find, is teaching your children the right kind of people with whom to interact. This concept is particularly challenging when children become older and less reliant on their families. They become more dependent on their friends and seek to define themselves by the friends they have. Nurturing good friendships and relationships begins at very early ages.
School places a bunch of children together, each with their own personalities, strengths, and struggles. They come from different homes, different financial situations, and different cultures. They are a group of children similar in age only. While in an ideal world these groups of children would get along and become good friends, that’s just not how it works. Classmates don’t have to be friends anymore than adults have to be friends with a coworker or someone at church. As an adult, if we encounter and interact with someone whom we don’t get along with, we don’t have to refer to her as a friend or (in many cases) even interact with her. We can learn to be polite and kind while maintaining my distance.
Referring to classmates as “friends” forces a relationship upon our kids and teaches them that friends are anyone they’re forced to interact with. It teaches kids that friends can be repeatedly mean or uncaring. That friends “just happen” and real relationships don’t need to be nurtured.
We can still teach children to be kind to each other, even if they encounter someone they don’t get along with. In doing so, we teach them that we’re kind to all – friend or foe. Meanwhile, they can learn the true definition of a friend without confusion.
This blog post is a couple years old but it hits right at the heart of what I just realized with my daughter this week. She is in kindergarten and although I’ve always disliked classmates being called “friends” it wasn’t until this week that I realized how confusing this really is. Just yesterday we discussed how you don’t have to be ‘friends’ with everyone but that even if someone isn’t your friend, you still have to be kind. Thank you for this post!
I’m so glad you found it helpful. It was mid-way through Kindergarten before I realized the damage this had done for my kiddo and worked to reverse the damage he’d felt.
Best of luck with your kiddo!!
As a speech-language pathologist in a school district, I couldn’t agree with you more! We’re desensitizing the significance of so many relationships by doing this! Thank you for writing this article. We can’t expect children to understand boundaries and relationships when we make these unnecessary semantic mistakes.