“You have to eat pizza for lunch today, or I won’t be your friend.” “If you play basketball with Josh at recess you can’t be my friend.”
Comments like these are heard in classrooms and playgrounds the world over. I often overhear my own children making similar comments (We have to play my game first, or I won’t play with you!). Most of the time these comments are tossed around in a casual fashion and five minutes later the children involved are best buddies again. However, comments such as these, and the intentions behind them, are not always innocent. I recently experienced a situation where a child was so desperate to hang onto his “friend” that he was doing whatever the boy asked.
Luckily the family was able to resolve the situation, but this led me to thinking how quickly a bullying situation can start without anyone really seeing it. When a child is being coerced into acting inappropriately premised on the loss of friendship – that is bullying. It needs to be addressed with all parties involved, I disagree with punishing the bully, but there does need to be discussion about feelings, behaviors, and expectations coupled with consequences.
The friendship world can be tricky to navigate. Some children have a difficult time distinguishing between supportive relationships and relationships that have a different motive.
I recently spoke with Dr. Jennifer Reesman, Director, DREAM (Deafness-Related Evaluations and More) Clinic in Baltimore, Maryland, about friendships and children with hearing loss and how easy it is to misread social situations. “Children want to fit in, they want to be part of a group,” says Dr. Reesman, “often times I hear of situations where the child will go along with a group that is really making fun of him, because he doesn’t realize the difference.”
Dr. Reesman suggests that families talk about friendship at home. “This shared, open communication is important in building resiliency in your child,” says Dr. Reesman. “Start at an early age, and discuss the idea of friendship. Help your child understand the difference between what friends do and what friends don’t do. Find out who your child’s friends are, invite them over to your house, stay connected with how they talk and play together.”
It’s important to remember that friends and family members often tease one another good naturedly. The difference between friendly and unfriendly teasing has to do with the cues that surround the words – tone of voice, body posture, and facial expressions. All those social cues that children who are deaf and hard of hearing often have a difficult time picking up on. Role play with your child. Say phrases to him in a friendly voice and a mean voice. Sign unfriendly phrases to him. What do friendly facial expressions and signs look like? Have him distinguish between the two and also have him practice what they could do in response.
Helping your child become more aware of the intentions of others can go a long way towards navigating the world of friendship.