Here are three books that you could use to jump start a conversation with your child about friendship and how we are all connected. The first two, Rain! and The Friend Ship, are best suited for 3 to 5 year olds. The last one, Stone Soup, is appropriate for primary and early intermediate. You can gear the questions you ask your child to their developmental age. For children with a deeper understanding of the complicated nature of friendship, you might ask more difficult questions.
Friendship is tricky for all of us. Reading social cues, regulating ourselves in groups of people, balancing our own needs and the needs of others, knowing what to say to join groups – these are complex skills and children are just beginning to learn them. It can be hard as parents to know how to support them as they stumble through learning these skills. Some of us might have a tough time socially ourselves, and guiding our children can seem like a mine field!
These books, and many others you probably already have on your shelves, will give you a starting point for conversations about friendships. You can talk about how it feels to be lonely, like Hedgehog in The Friend Ship, or how we can affect others around us by showing them kindness, like the boy in Rain!
Rain! by Linda Ashman and pictures by Christian Robinson, is a gem of a book that I first saw at my son’s daycare. On a rainy day in a city, a boy and a man separately go to the local café. The man is not happy to be out in the rain; the boy is jubilant. There is a story of when the boy and the man meet and how one impacts the other; as well, there is also a story in the reactions of the people who the boy and the man come into contact with as each walks to the café. In simple pictures and words, it tells the tale of how we are feeling and our behaviour impacts those around us. It is a great story to begin to talk about social awareness and how we affect each other.
You might start by asking your child how might each character be feeling and how your child knows this (ask them what they are seeing, for example, frown, eye brows pointing down, hand on hip). If they are younger, this might be all you ask. If they are a bit older, you might talk about how the other people in the picture look and what your child thinks might be going on. You can talk about what happened to the man when the child gave him his hat back.
The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh, is a lovely book about Hedgehog, who is lonely. He builds a ship and sets sail in search of friends. Wherever he stops, he asks the animals he finds, “Have you seen the Friend Ship?” None of them have, but they ask to come with him because they would like to find a friend as well. Hedgehog’s ship gets fuller and fuller with animals. It is a beautiful book to introduce questions such as, “What makes a friend?” and “How do you know if someone is your friend?”
Jon J Muth’s Stone Soup, is a retelling of a traditional European folk tale. In his version, three monks are traveling through the mountains when they happen across a village. In this village, the villagers are all wary of each other, to say nothing of the three strangers who walk through their gates. The monks begin to make stone soup, and in doing so, unite and connect the villagers with each other again, making the village and it’s inhabitants happier in the process. Questions you might ask your child after reading this book include, “What happened when the monks started making the soup?” “How might the people in the village have been feeling before they started to make soup?” “How might they be feeling when they were helping make and eat the soup?” and “What do you think happened to change how the people in the village felt?”
There are many books that you can read with your child to begin a conversation about friends and friendship. By doing so, you are accomplishing two aims: firstly, you are developing your child’s social and emotional competencies (go here for more information on social and emotional learning); secondly, by asking questions and listening to the answers, you are letting your child know that you want to have open and honest conversations with them.
I believe that the important part is to begin the conversation and not get hung up on if we are doing it “right.” Even if our children appear to not be interested or only half engaging in the conversation, our intent behind our efforts will stick with them and when they do need honest answers, or have had a tough interaction with peers, they will seek us out. And our efforts to nurture social and emotional skills will most certainly help our children as they grow and learn how to be kind and compassionate people in this world.