Friendship is like magic; sometimes unlikely people make good friends because they complement each other, sometimes friendship is based on very similar interests, and sometimes kids who we think are going to hit it off just aren't interested in each other, or worse, clash.
Sometimes we, as adults, feel helpless when we see a child who struggles socially. They don't teach us teachers about childhood friendship in teacher college! It's not that we care only about academics in our classroom; it's that other than teaching cooperation, turn taking, and the golden rule, the nuances of friendship can seem too delicate to get involved with. So I want to tell you about a recent success story I had with a child who desperately wanted a friend.
Annie was known as a troublemaker from kindergarten through the beginning of third grade, when her teacher decided to make her her special "project." With extra care and guidance, she helped Annie start caring about school (even though it's really hard for her) and she helped Annie understand that the way she treats people turns them off to her. She decided she didn't want to be a loner anymore.
That was a huge step for Annie! The problem is, now that she's in fourth grade, although she cares very much and she knows what NOT to do, knowing what she SHOULD do is a struggle. And that's where Cara comes in.
Cara has low cognitive development. She was mainstreamed this year after being in a substantially separate program from first to third grade. The other children met her in kindergarten, and now that she's back it's been a hard transition, but she's finally found her niche. Because although she can't keep up with most of what's going on, she is quick to smile, laugh, and go with the flow appropriately. I'm pretty sure the other children know she has a disability, but they recognize she has a good heart so they support her.
When Annie met Cara, she suddenly felt like she was no longer the "low man on the totem pole." At first, when Cara had no friends yet, Annie started playing with her. And Annie realized that Cara needed HER help with things, whereas usually Annie was the one who was slow to keep up. So Annie started to mother her.
But, inevitably, friends sometimes disagree.
Annie, who is lacking in social development, saw a small disagreement as a disaster. She thought she was losing her only friend, so she lashed out. She said some mean things to Cara, Cara's mom got involved, called Annie a bully, and wanted the girls separated. Annie was devastated.
After I told Annie how much she hurt Cara, she wiped away her tears and although she didn't get to sit with her in class, the girls gravitated back together at recess time without a second incident. I've told Cara's mom to keep me posted, but there have been no more reports of problems. In fact, the week before Christmas Annie whispered to me with a sparkle in her eyes, "I got someone a really special present. I got me and Cara matching necklaces that say BFF."
We got back from Christmas break, and Annie came in wearing her necklace. That morning, Cara went home sick. "Where did Cara go?" Annie asked me. When I told her, her face fell. She left the necklace she was planning to give that day on Cara's desk. I gave it back to Annie and said, "Hold onto it; you can give it to her yourself tomorrow. You don't want it to go missing!"
But the next day, Cara wasn't there. She was still sick.
Sometimes, as adults, we forget the feeling of coming in in the morning and seeing "my friend is absent today." For a child as insecure as Annie, it hurts even more. I didn't realize it at the time. But then, after lunch, I saw Denise wearing Annie's necklace. The one she's been wanting to give to Cara for 2 weeks.
"Say, Denise, where did you get that necklace?"
"Annie gave it to me."
Denise is a nice girl, and she's smart too. She's not the type to steal a necklace and have the audacity to wear it around and lie about where she got it from. Annie made a rash decision here, and I did not know how she was going to get out of it. I didn't know what I could do to help.
To Be Continued.