For a parent, there's nothing worse than seeing your child upset - by anything at all. No matter if it's big or small, temporary or permanent, trivial or life altering, it hurts to see them unhappy. As their parent, you want nothing more than to make the hurt or the sadness go away - with hugs, kisses or a good old fashioned pep talk. Whatever it takes. Sometimes, for kids, the thing that can hurt the most are words - especially from their young peers. For my younger son who's in kindergarten, the words that have always hurt him the most throughout the preschool years are: you're not my friend.
From the stories I've heard of life in the classroom and out on the playground, those four hurtful words are usually uttered when one friend feels wronged by another one. Perhaps one didn't take turns on the climbing wall or another one didn't want to sit and read a book together. Whatever the case, it always seems like the quickest aand easiest way for these young minds to express their anger and hurt is to quickly lash out with their words. And, the ones they tend to say are: you're not my friend.
But, what do those four words really mean?
To my young son, he's always taken it to heart and thought it to mean that the child really doesn't want to be his friend - ever again. As a parent, I know the words are just words. And, that in no time, the children will once again be laughing and playing together in the classroom and out on the playground. But, to the child whose feelings are hurt, it's hard for them to get past those four words.
But, I know that life as a child is more than just those four words. And, in reality, childhood friendships can and do last a lifetime - and can be an inspiration to us all.
For example, the other day my younger son told me he made a new friend. During a classroom exercise that mixes children from multiple kindergarten classes, he and another boy partnered to take on a group of girls in a educational game - and they won. After one game played over the course of less than one hour, they bonded like only two five-year-old children can do.
That's what being a child is all about. It's about seeing a playmate in another child without taking note of any of their differences. It's about being able to bond over coloring, playing a game, laughing at the same thing, or just being a boy. It's about being able to say you're good friends after having only just met. And, it's about reveling in the innocence of youth while you're in the midst of it all.
Choosing to say "be my friend" instead
So, with Valentine's Day quickly approaching, I'm encouraging both of my sons to scrawl three words on each of the cards they hand out to their classmates or just say throughout the day: be my friend.
I know those three words can be even more powerful than, and even repair any damage done by, those four other words. And, maybe just maybe, those same kids will one day be more quick to say be my friend instead.
I know it's just the wish of just one mom, but I'm still going to try to make sure our Valentine's Day wishes always include: be my friend. And, I welcome you to do the same.
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