Friendship Truths to Guide Kids as They Head Back to Classrooms
Making and maintaining friendships can be challenging, especially during the preteen and teen years. Given the wide range of social-emotional skills in a single classroom, it’s no wonder that friendship struggles unfold. Throw in a pandemic, social distancing, and school closures and it’s no wonder kids’ social lives are in a heightened state of flux. This article shares friendship truths that will come in handy as kids head back to school.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s how to be flexible, resilient, and open to change. These skills will support kids as they transition back to school too.
For kids, the return to their social worlds includes many unknowns. Will their friends still be friends? Who will return to school? What will be the same, and what will be different?
Even “normal” school years tend to be filled with social ups and downs. School is a prime training ground for developing relational skills, so mistakes and misunderstandings are common.
As kids return to classrooms, they are likely to experience even more change. And that’s okay. The following friendship truths are from BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls’ Guide to Happy Friendship. These truths apply to life before, during, and after the pandemic and will help kids navigate their social worlds.
Four Friendship Truths
Truth#1: Friendships change over time.
Friendship changes can be difficult and confusing for kids, but it’s common in elementary, middle, and even high school. Being placed in different classes and changing interests, personalities, and group dynamics prompt friendship changes. Understanding that change is normal may not make it easier or less painful, but it may help a little.
Truth #2: Everyone develops friendship skills at a different pace, so misunderstandings and mistakes happen.
Friendship requires many skills, like communication, flexibility, respect, and honesty. Because kids are developing these skills at different rates, conflict and mistakes are common. Encourage your kids to avoid labeling others because kids are constantly growing and learning. A friendship may not be right for them now, but it might be in the future.
Truth #3: Healthy friendships feel safe and accepting.
Elementary and middle school is a great time to discuss the qualities of healthy friendships. Encourage kids to notice which friendships feel safe and accepting. Remind kids that sometimes kids with really strong friendship qualities may not have the “most” friends.
Truth #4: “Close friendships” can be hard to find.
Most kids have a range of peers that fall into the “friend” category, including classmates, neighbors, teammates, etc. For some kids, “close friends” are harder to find. Many kids may not have a “close friend” until middle school or later. This can be a relief to kids that feel like everyone has a best friend except them. All kids need to have a friend, but close friendships may not happen for some kids until later.
Recognizing these friendship truths does not mean kids will avoid social discomfort, hurt feelings, or regret. These truths will, however, help kids learn to be gentle with themselves and others. They also encourage kids to stay open to learning and growing.
Our social lives are constantly evolving, especially during childhood and adolescence. Some changes are positive, like making new friends. Others are hard, such as dealing with conflict, betrayal, and friendship loss.
What makes social changes during adolescence difficult are often the stories preteens and teens layer on top. A friendship loss may grow to mean that they “must not be good enough.” Or, after a falling out, kids might label a former friend as “bad,” holding tight to resentment.
In reality, these stories are inaccurate and incomplete. They hold kids back, tainting their view of themselves and others. Through listening and encouragement, parents play an essential role in helping kids process their emotions and feel heard, loved, and accepted as they navigate inevitable struggles along the way. If your child continues to experience isolation and loneliness, be sure to seek support from a school counselor or other professional.
After an enduring pandemic, heading back to school will be filled with change for all of us. It’s a unique opportunity to start fresh, grounded in our shared humanity. But most of all, it’s time to enjoy some much-needed time with friends.
About Jessica Speer: Jessica Speer is an author who is focused on helping kids and families thrive. Her book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls’ Guide to Happy Friendships, releases August 2021. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with preteens and teens. Visit www.JessicaSpeer.com to learn more, follow her blog, or connect on social media.