My oldest daughter is six and a half years old, and over the years, I have found it fascinating to watch her interact with her friends. I woud give anything to be a fly on the wall, observing their dynamics, learning who is the Alpha Friend, keeping a tally of when they are bossy, or mean, or selfless.
One thing I didn’t expect was how challenging it would be to know when to intervene, and when to keep my mouth shut and let them navigate their own choppy waters of friendship. Sometimes it is so painful to listen to their conversations, overhearing them negotiate which roles they should play, cringing while they exchange awkward dialogue that borders (or not!) on being obnoxious. If I could, here are the pieces of advice I would love to impart to them, should they choose to hear me. (Apparently, the theme for this week is “Things I’d Like To Tell People, But Won’t.” Hmm. Back to the therapy couch, I guess.)
- Nobody likes the girl who threatens to go home every time she can’t have her way.
- Don’t always begin a conversation by sharing something special you have done or acquired. It’s bragging, and it puts people off. Every once in awhile, ask your friends about themselves.
- Wearing a swimsuit with high-heeled dress-up shoes makes you look like a streetwalker. Just sayin’.
- Stop bragging about being three months older than your friends, or crying because you are the last girl to turn seven. Someday it will be cool to be just a little bit younger than everybody else. As for right now- who really cares?
- Don’t exclude other girls, and learn to get good at playing in a group of three. I know it makes you feel secure to leave other girls out, but don’t. Remember how sad you feel when you are the one who is left out. When you are older, it will be in your best interest to include as many friends as you can, and people will like you more for making them feel welcome and important.
- Know when to tattle and when to shut up. It is important to learn when your friends are making really bad choices, or being unsafe, or keeping a secret they shouldn’t. You should always know that it is okay to do the right thing and share with your parents. But sometimes you just need to keep your mouth shut and let things go, or your friends are never going to share their secrets with you. I’m glad you told me that Penny uses the “F” word, but I really don’t give a crap about how many pieces of candy she had yesterday.
- Lower your voices, for the love of all that is holy! Both in pitch and in decibel.
- When offered a drink or snack by your friend’s mom, say thank you. Don’t complain or ask if there is something else you can have.
- Cruelty and one-up-manship are not cool. There is never any reason to say something with the specific intention of making another person feel bad. Unless they are a jerk. Just kidding. (Sort of.) Being mean may make you feel powerful and superior now, but there will come a time when people will like you less for those tendencies. It may take awhile, but eventually, other kids will not want to be around you if you are unkind.
- Be true to yourself. Just because someone else is doing something, wearing something, watching a certain TV show, or using words that our family doesn’t use, doesn’t mean that you have to do it. Listen to your instincts. There is a wise woman deep inside you, waiting to be born.
There are times when I cannot help but intervene, reminding them to use manners, or change the way they are speaking to one another, or even warn them that their playdate will end if they cannot treat each other more kindly. And sometimes I try to give my daughter a private “coaching session” on how to handle challenging friend dynamics. It is hard to know what sinks in. One thing is for certain- with two daughters, the friendship dynamics are only going to get more challenging from here on out.