Easy Come, Easy Go: Friendships and Social Development in First Grade

Get ready for a bit of a bumpy road as you accompany children's social development this year. School brings opportunities for many Chatting Friends new friendships, and the likelihood is that your child will make a new significant friend this year-or possibly several. Indeed, children may seem to go through their new friends faster than you can learn their names, and quickly be off with another. No need to worry, though; this is a predictable part of kids' social development at this age. Luckily, in first grade kids seem to take this come-and-go nature of friendship in stride.

Girls at this age tend to form more friendships than boys do, though the boys are more likely to stick with the friends they make. For both boys and girls, their choice of friends is based on proximity and shared interests, more than any intrinsic characteristics of the kids they hang out with. First graders are highly conscious of gender differences, and they are more likely to gravitate toward same-sex friendships.

Rules make up a major part of children's social development and of their play. Although all 6 and 7 year olds will agree that rules are necessary, specific ideas about which rules to follow will vary from child to child. Generally, the oldest kids get to set the rules, and everyone else is expected to follow their lead if they want to join in. But mix in a few colorful or assertive personalities, all of whom want to make the rules, and watch the tempers fly.

The potential for problems escalates even higher by the fact that first graders have little tolerance for losing. Fortunately, by age 6, kids are more likely to use language to resolve conflicts, and less likely to take matters physically into their own hands.

Friends

While adults should keep an eye on play group dynamics, in general it is best to let the children try and work it out. They are learning valuable lessons in cooperation and compromise. However, do step in before things get really ugly, and definitely take action if children are being bullied or harmed in any way.

Kids are learning to solve conflicts with words instead of fists. Try to let kids work problems out on their own, and only step in if you are really needed.

As far as family is concerned, children still rely heavily on parents and home life for stability and security. Away from home, however, they are their own people, and be prepared for some rejection if you try to kiss them out in public. They may tend to blame mom for anything that goes wrong. First graders will also begin to form strong bonds with other adults outside the immediate family, such as neighbors and teachers.

Social Development Milestones in First Grade

  • wants to make up if there is a fight
  • resolves conflict with adult help or by getting away from it
  • can play board games and simple team or group games
  • can be a tattletale
  • may change the rules in order to win
  • pretend play becomes more elaborate
  • uses language to show anger or displeasure; may call names
  • needs adult approval and is anxious to please
  • has mood swings
  • has difficulty understanding another person's point of view
  • there is a reason for their actions; follows "kid logic"
  • friendships are unstable
  • accuses others of cheating when they win
  • understands things that have clear rules; "grey areas" are hard to comprehend
  • personality may hit an extreme: very shy, or bossy and bold
  • can focus on a task for at least 15 minutes
  • very low tolerance for criticism or failure
  • wants to succeed based on peer group rules

How You Can Encourage Your Child's Social Development

1. Take an active part in planning and monitoring your children's play dates. Suggest games or activities that are less likely to generate conflict, and be available to help resolve conflicts if necessary.

2. Teach children fun, non-competitive games and activities.

  • Circle Stories: Kids create a story together, one line at a time. Help with the opening sentence until kids get the hang of it.
  • Copy Cat: Have one child be leader. The others copy everything the leader does. Take turns so that everyone gets to be a leader.
  • Balloon Up: Kids work together to see how long they can keep a balloon in the air.
  • Musical Chairs: In this new version, chairs are taken away but no one is "out". Instead, they sit on the laps of the kids in the chairs. Watch this get crazy fun when kids are stacked high on each others' laps!

Friends 3. If your child's social development seems a bit delayed, or he is having trouble making friends, privately give him specific suggestions of things to try. "When Zack is talking to you, look at him. Then he'll know you are listening to him." Give subtle reminders of these tips when he is playing with other children. Take a look at this informative site for ideas on teaching social skills.

4. Help your child express neediness in appropriate ways. When your child whines, "I want to go HOME," deal first with the whining. Say: "That's a whiny voice. Can you say that again in a normal voice?" When she repeats herself in an appropriate voice, then respond to her words: "We will leave in 15 minutes, when my phone says 6:20. What would you like to do for the next 15 minutes?"

5. Don't over-schedule free time. When you are setting up social or active experiences, be sure to set aside plenty of time for the activity, as well as a balance of "nothing" time at home to regroup and rest. Children at this age need plenty of time to finish things or make a transition, so try not to schedule things too close together.

REMEMBER

Talk often to your child, and take time to really listen.

6. Lying, cheating and stealing are behaviors that your child may try out at this age. Although experimenting with these behaviors is a normal part of children's social development, parents and caregivers should respond to these in words children can relate to. "When you took my pen, I was sad because I wanted it, and I didn't have it when I needed it." "When you cheated in our game, I felt like you were tricking me, and that made me feel bad. What I want most of all is for us to have a fun game." Follow up with consequences that are appropriate, but not extreme.

7. Parents: talk to your child's teacher to find out how she is doing at school. Teachers: talk to parents about behaviors you notice. If children are having difficulty with bullying, shyness, immaturity, or some other area of social development, two heads are better than one, and you can work together to provide consistent responses to the behavior.


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“ Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression. ”
~Dr. Haim Ginott