L ola was crushed. Her friend Samantha was supposed to accompany us to a local production of The Secret Garden on the weekend and had suddenly canceled to hang out with another girl.
I was crushed. Tickets were $30, no refunds. But more important than the money was Samantha’s history of hot-and-cold relations with Lola. Sam would be pleasant for several months, then dump activities with Lola to ignore her. She’d happily go to a restaurant with our family, then invite every girl in the class to her birthday — except Lola.
“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” I thought, wondering how long it would be until Lola called a halt to Samantha’s manipulations.
Unfortunately, the one-sided friendship seems to be on the rise. Two moms complained to me about the lack of reciprocity in friendships. These women say give-and-take has segued into take-and-take. Some of their female pals never make the first move for lunch or coffee, don’t initiate phone calls, show up late or abruptly cancel meetings. They also monopolize conversations, allowing plenty of time to discuss their own adventures, problems and exploits, then cut off any discussions from their companion. Other examples?
The relative at group dinners who never pays his full share and shorts the wait staff, too.
The co-worker who spends several hours a week weeping on your shoulder over personal problems but is too busy to answer your inquiries about a project.
The couple that’s always willing to come to your house for a meal yet never extends an invitation back.
A child has even less control than adults over the intricate interactions that comprise and build a relationship. And even more than most adults, children define friendship by propinquity, physical proximity. Then qualities like age, involvement in the same school or activities, similar tastes in clothes or musical groups. So when a grandchild is crushed by a supposed friend’s betrayal, what can we do? Lectures, or “when I was young” stories, don’t do a heck of a lot. Neither do statements like, “You’re so cute, you’ll find a new friend in no time.”
There is a teaching term called “scaffolding,” though. In this process an adult helps a student perfect new skills, working closely with the youngster and providing encouragement, information, even examples, but allowing the child to attempt a great deal on his own. Take a toddler learning to walk. We grasp two little hands, then one, crouch in front and extend our arms, perhaps even lift our own feet to show the child.
Isn’t it great to know that humans have been experts in this approach since the dawn of time? Including you!
You can apply scaffolding to friendships. To start the process, ask some basic questions:
How can you tell someone is your friend?
How can you tell someone is a GOOD friend?
Why do you like (insert friend’s name)?
How do you show you’re a good friend to someone?
What would you absolutely HATE a friend to do to you or someone else?
The idea is to get the child thinking, not to judge answers as right or wrong. You may be able to insert some of your own opinions or illustrate with stories from your life. Yet, the ultimate goal is to encourage your child to realize two truths: To have a friend, you need to be a friend. And equally, to have a friend, you need to NOT be a doormat.
Bonnie McCune is a freelance writer and communications consultant in Colorado who’s astounded that her two grandchildren teach her so much.