I have been thinking about how we use the word “friend” in our preschool classrooms and with our children. Like many adults who remember the word “friend” before Facebook, I often bemoan the ever-changing definition of that word. Today, a “friend” can be someone you don’t see or speak with in person or on a telephone. It can be someone you’ve never met but, for some reason, wants to connect with you on social media. We have even taken the noun “friend” and made it a verb. We can “friend” and “unfriend” people. The more I consider it, the more I conclude that the re-defining of this word did not start on the internet. I think it actually starts when we try to teach socialization to preschoolers. I believe that the word is overused.
I recently attended a workshop about children’s rights. Children have the right to feel safe both physically and emotionally. We try to create spaces for them that are loving and all inclusive. We tell them that everyone in their class is their friend. Is that true? Is it a realistic expectation that all of the children in our classrooms or even in our personal lives will be friends? Surely, some of them are just not compatible. They actually have a right to not be compatible. My child doesn’t have to like every other child. He doesn’t have to consider everyone his friend.
We need a change of verbiage. When our children don’t get along with other children, perhaps we need to say, “We are all kind in this classroom” rather than “We are all friends.” We should teach them that being kind means accepting that we are not all the same. There are some people who we want to spend more time with and we can be kind to the others, too. This lesson can extend to everyone they encounter. We are kind to the children in the classroom next door. We are kind to children we meet on the playground. We are kind to people in stores and restaurants. We don’t have to be their friend and choose to have a personal relationship but we do have to be kind. Children can learn that being kind means being nice, gentle and helpful. Having a friend means having a personal and mutually appreciated relationship. They are different.
We can’t do much about the changes in our language due to our rapidly changing world of increased internet connection. We can, however, help children to have a better understanding of the definition of the word friend and a view of the world that allows them to pick friends while being a good and tolerant person.__________________________________________________________________________________
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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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