The Word “Friend” – Is It Overused In Preschool?

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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  1. I have heard this argument before and have a different view.

    In my preschool class, the word "friend" is taken very seriously by my students from the moment they walk in the door. They quickly develop their opinion on who is their friend and who is not but it often changes day by day or even moment by moment. Such is the nature of preschool age children. You see, unlike adults, young children are still establishing their cognitive understanding of friendship and all that friendship encompasses. Our role is to help them expand their thought process by fostering potential friendships at this age.

    "Is it a realistic expectation that all of the children in our classrooms or even in our personal lives will be friends?" No, it isn't realistic but as adults, we have a say in who we spend our time with and have the cognitive understanding that kindness and friendship are two different words. I don't believe preschoolers can separate the two.

    "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."

    Compatibility" doesn't always dictate friendship. My husband and I are not always compatible but we are still friends. I can assure you that we will have some very hurt feelings in my classroom (by both children and parents) if kids start coming home telling mom and dad "My teacher says that the other children don't have to be my friend" because again, cognitively speaking, young children are not ready for such higher level thinking on social behavior.

    I think that encouraging the use of the word friend in the classroom is ultimately the kindest thing you can do for everyone. Yes, perhaps the children don't consider everyone in the class to be a friend in the truest sense of the word but in a community of learners, everyone needs to treat everyone else just as if they were a friend. Building tolerance isn't what we should be striving for in our preschool classrooms. It should be building genuine relationships that will sometimes result in lasting friendships, despite differences, and at other times result in kindness for the moment but either way, preschoolers are still developing their cognitive understanding of friendship and every preschool age child needs to feel that he or she can be a friend and will be accepted as a friend by the others in the classroom.


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