The other day, my son came home from school upset. During recess, a boy told him he couldn’t join a kickball game because he wasn’t “good enough.”
“That’s what ALL the kids play, Mom,” he told me when I asked him if there was something else he could do at recess instead.
This is not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. However, this time something amazing occurred that made all the difference for my tender-hearted boy — his friend left the game and joined him as he walked away.
It warmed my heart when I heard that his friend had stood by him, but I wasn’t surprised. This has been the first year where my son has had a couple of close friends that he knows he can rely on, and I have observed a change in his attitude about school all year.
The thing is, I’m not worried about my kids being popular at school. Popularity comes and goes, but true friendship is something else entirely. My 10-year-old is beginning to notice who is popular at school, and tells me that his group of friends are considered “popular” — and yet, he is still bullied.
Those moments — when a child is singled out and embarrassed in front of their peers — are what demonstrate to them who their real friends are.
I was fortunate to have a few close friends throughout elementary school. We called ourselves “The Fabulous Five.” As a shy middle child who wasn’t close in age to any of my siblings, my friends were a lifeline.
I never felt lonely with those girls around. One day, I remember the teachers taking us aside and telling us a story about a group of girls who were friends and each owned a Guess brand bag (it was the ’80s, after all). They said that these girls would only allow other girls to join their group if they had their own Guess bag, and how hurtful it was to the other students. The teachers were trying to teach us a lesson about inclusivity, although at the time I couldn’t understand why they were singling us out.
When I entered junior high, it began to make more sense. I no longer had the safety net of close friends to rely on, and the brief stint I experienced as being one of the “popular” girls short-lived and nowhere near the utopia I imagined it would be. It was shallow, superficial, and reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Mean Girls.
It reinforced what I already knew to be true — that all I really needed was one or two good friends that I knew I could count on.
That’s why when any of my kids reach the age where they go to school for the first time, I always give them the same advice: “Find one friend that you get along with.” One friend that you can sit with at lunch, one friend that you can play with at recess, and one friend that you can depend on to be kind to you when things get tough.
I know that if they at least have that one friend, they won’t have to be lonely while they’re away from home.
In the end, that’s all I really want for my three boys. I want them to be kind to everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be their friend. True friends require time, effort and energy — but the rewards are so much greater than being one of the “cool” kids ever could be.