During the holiday break, I read an article by Michael Chambers, a tertiary lecturer in education. The author explores how grief and tears about friendships are inevitable for young people, especially in the secondary school years.
Transitioning to secondary school coincides with a time in life when young people are pushing new social and family boundaries. The transition to secondary school is especially demanding as once dependent kids become more independent in a new schooling order of new routines, new teachers, coaches, and new friends.
The article focuses on how parents can help their children make and maintain positive friendships. Chambers suggests young people will be more skilled in the art of making genuine friends if they are optimistic about life, have some basic social skills and have a relationship with a parent/carer that includes honest talk.
Optimism can lead to success
At some stage, a child is likely to come home either sullen, withdrawn, crying or moody. They may even experience school refusal, displaying a reluctance about going to school.
A young person who has a positive mindset is more likely to bounce back into the usual routines of friendship. When a young person has a positive mindset, they tend to see setbacks and troubles as temporary. They identify them for what they are (specific, time-related issues) rather than for what they are not (global and eternal). That is to say, positive kids are more likely to identify a specific and reasoned account of friendship troubles.
The article suggests we can foster a positive mindset in children by modelling and encouraging positive self-talk in the home. Expect your son or daughter to be looking forward to something each day at school. That might be catching up with friends, a particular class, sport training or co-curricular involvement. Try to place a level of positivity around this focus and share in the experience with your child.
Social skills and being genuine
Young people are more likely to fit in and make friendships if they are seen to be socially acceptable by their peers. As a parent, you may ask yourself, is your child comfortable with, and know how to enter a group situation and greet friends. Does he or she mix with friends in the schoolyard during breaks?
Just as adults do, young people recognise and appreciate genuine and authentic people. I believe one sure way of increasing authenticity is to encourage your child to follow their interests and for parents to become genuinely immersed within them. Once a child has developed their own interests and character, they will share it with other students or groups. When a young person becomes enthusiastic about an interest then other students will want to be around that enthusiasm and friendships will begin to manifest.
Healthy relationships with adults
Children who have good and healthy relationships with adults are more likely to have good and healthy relationships with their peers. So, it’s important for parents to foster a supportive relationship with their children. We must try to be encouraging parents who listen to our children’s concerns. But, don’t expect to have all the answers! A listening ear and a measured response will be welcomed.
Remember, healthy relationships sometimes involve conflict, which is a normal part of family life. It is important that these conflicts are dealt with in a safe and respectful way. Healthy family relationships also mean that positive interactions between family members outnumber the difficult times. If our children perceive us to be fair, that will go a long way to establishing a solid relationship between adult and child. In turn, it will increase the chance your child will have good relationships with his or her peers.
As a partnership, parents and school play a critical role in developing positive attitudes towards learning and education for children. Undoubtedly, children generally do better when there are positive connections between the different spaces they learn in, and seeking support from a school can help navigate the tricky path our young people can face at times.
Mr Scott James, Headmaster