Making and maintaining friendships can be challenging, especially for kids. Given the wide range of social skills in a single classroom, it’s no wonder that friendship struggles unfold. Throw in a pandemic, social distancing, school closures, and kids’ social lives are in a heightened state of flux.
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 in-person school too.
For many, the return to their social worlds includes a lot of 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 social-emotional skills, so mistakes are common. As kids return to classrooms, they are likely to experience even more change. And that’s okay.
The following friendship truths apply to life before, during, and after the pandemic and help kids navigate social 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 and middle school. Being placed in different classes, changing interests, personalities, and group dynamics prompt friendship changes at this age. Understanding that change is normal may not make it easier or less painful, but it helps 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. Many households are under a great deal of stress due to the pandemic, so kids may not behave at their best.
Truth #3: Healthy friendships feel safe and accepting
Elementary and middle school is a great time to begin 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 kids that fall into the “friend” category, including classmates, neighbors, teammates, etc. For some kids, “close friends” are harder to find. In fact, 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. But, these truths help kids learn to be gentle with themselves and others. They encourage kids to stay open to learning and growing.
Through listening and encouragement, parents play an essential role in helping kids process their emotions, 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 focused on helping kids and families thrive. Her book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), releases July 2021. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with pre-teens and teens. Visit www.JessicaSpeer.com to learn more, follow her blog, or connect on social media.