By Annie Fox, M.Ed., Free Spirit author of The Middle School Confidential™ series
Back in March, I spent a whole day at a St. Louis school presenting individual sessions of my Real Friends vs. the Other Kind workshops to 1st through 6th graders. Here is a sampling of students’ questions about how to deal with people who aren’t being respectful. My answers, tailored to the age of the questioner, follow.
1st grader: Why do best friends get into fights?
People get into fights when, at a certain moment, they each want something different. For example, if I want you to go on the swings with me at recess and you want me to play tetherball with you, we’ve got a conflict. But just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to get into a fight about it. You and your friends are smart kids. You are creative and you know how to figure things out. If you both agreed that getting into a fight is not a good idea (because all it does is make people angry and hurt the friendship), then you can come up with a compromise. That means you each get some of what you want. For example, you could say, “The first half of recess we’ll go on the swings and the second half we’ll play tetherball.” Now, I understand that not all disagreements are that easy to resolve, but if friends agree to calm down and talk and listen to each other with respect, I’m pretty sure you can figure out a solution to most of your problems. When the problem is too big to figure out on your own, get help from your parent or teacher. That’s a smart move that will also help the friendship!
2nd grader: What if somebody promises to sit with me at lunch but doesn’t?
Sometimes people forget their promises and they need to be reminded. And sometimes people make promises when they really don’t mean to keep them. If this person is a real friend, then set up another time to sit together at lunch. If this person never seems to want to sit with you at lunch, I suggest you find some other people who do want to sit with you!
3rd grader: What should I do if someone is being mean to me and not to anybody else?
Not everyone knows when they’re being mean. Sometimes people feel so angry or jealous they do and say things without thinking about other people’s feelings. That’s why it’s important for you to speak up whenever you are being treated disrespectfully. Even if you’re not the only one who’s being treated this way, you should still speak up. Show that you have respect for yourself. If this person’s behavior toward you doesn’t change for the better, talk to your teacher. With the teacher’s help, you and this other person may be able to make peace.
4th grader: Somebody is making fun of somebody else’s reading level. What should I do?
You know this isn’t okay and I’m very proud of you for putting your values into this question. I see that you are a person who believes everyone should be treated with respect. Whether this is happening to you or you are watching someone else being made fun of, I encourage you to stand up to the person who is doing the teasing and speak up. Sometimes people get away with teasing because they don’t think it’s “a big deal” or they somehow think it’s “fun” or “funny.” Teasing can be very hurtful, and the best way I know to have less of it is to tell the teasers, “That’s not okay.” Go for it!
5th grader: How do you know if someone is your friend?
You can’t tell just from looking at someone or even from knowing him or her for a little while. To answer this question, I asked my best friend, my husband, David. Without hesitation he said, “By the way the person treats you!” I agree! If you are wondering whether your friend is the real kind, there’s probably something going on that is making you uncertain. Aside from looking at your friend’s behavior, there’s another piece to figuring out if someone is a true friend or not and that has to do with the way you feel when you’re with that friend. If you feel relaxed, safe, respected, accepted, listened to, and comfortable enough to be yourself, then chances are that person is a real friend. Make sure that you are a real friend, too!
6th grader: What do you do if your friend does something wrong, but you’re afraid your friend will get mad if you tell on him or her?
If what your friend is doing is hurtful or dangerous, then it’s important for you to talk to an adult. When the message “That’s not okay” comes from an adult, kids often pay more attention than if another kid says it. If you tell an adult, there is a chance your friend might get mad at you—but if you stay silent when someone does something wrong, then you are allowing it to continue when you could have done something to stop it. Do the right thing and speak up!
You might want to use these questions as discussion drivers with your students and or your own children. When they start talking about friendship challenges, there is so much we can learn. The more we learn the more able we are to help them!
Annie Fox, M.Ed., is a nationally known educator with more than 30 years of experience teaching kids and teens social intelligence skills. Her award-winning books include Too Stressed to Think? and the popular Middle School Confidential™ book and app series. Her upcoming book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People, will be available in September.
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