Supporting Relationships in Elementary

August 16, 2018

 

A key quality of Elementary learners is their heightened awareness of their peers and friend groups, and an often new attention to how they fit within the group of children around them. This is a great time to reach out to specific children your child wants to spend time with on the weekends, to plan adventures together or just to let them have open-ended, unscheduled time at the park together. In these early days of school, listen for the names that get repeated most often: unlike in earlier development, children in Elementary typically chose their friends by personality and not necessarily shared interest. The children they'll ask about will be the ones they really enjoy (or, sometimes, the ones who confuse them!) and who they want to learn more about. 

 

Children in Elementary are social animals. But that doesn't mean they're good at it. You might want to talk to your child about their academics, their interests or their family, but your child may be distracted by who said what to whom on the playground or whether they have the t-shirt they want to wear for some coordinated activity with a buddy. Their attentiveness to the loyalties and slights they perceive from peers is higher. And while they may look like they're only interested in their friends, they still need your support and involvement as they make sense of a much wider perspective on the world. 

 

In these early days of school, remember that although your child may report the complexities of their peer groups, they don't necessarily want you to fix them. Children may have intense emotions to convey, but they may not hold those for long. Let them talk. Ask them open ended questions about how they addressed a situation or what they think they'd like to do next. If they describe a conflict, don't dive into protective mode, although you may want to pick up the phone right away and call the teacher! Letting children talk through their social issues, make a plan to enact a resolution and then reflect with you afterward about how or whether their plan worked and if they need more support... that's the process to keep them talking and protect their agency in their own lives. Of course, as a parent, you influence their values and encourage them, but at the end of the day, they are going to have to take action themselves when things go bumpy with friends, and your role is to help them to feel capable to do so. 

 

Meanwhile, this is an ideal time to focus on developing relationships with the other adults who are also engaged with your  child right now. Your child's teachers have a much more informed perspective on what's really happening at school between children. They know which children work well together and which children, despite being drawn to each other, are inevitably going to clash. They know how children respond to intervention, which children want to talk things through right away and which ones need some space or time before they can engage. And, most importantly, they know that, most of the time for most of the children, their social lives are actually quite lovely things. Children at this age often enjoy being with each other. They enjoy contributing to larger scale projects and flopping with their friends... in other words, they are well served by the way that the Montessori environment is prepared for them most of the time. 

 

Your child's teacher will be able to describe the ways in which that preparation is serving your child, what most of the day looks like, and which peers are more natural or more forced connections.  Ask them for guidance if you have a concern. And remember that every day is a busy day in Elementary! Take a moment to acknowledge your child's teacher's work, the pace they have to maintain to keep up with twenty five or thirty learners of this age, and the need they probably have for a warm smile or words of thanks. Taking the time to do that now, while the patterns of the year are still developing, will help later on. And remember the old nugget of teacher wisdom: we won't believe everything they tell us about you if you don't believe everything they tell you about us. Your child's teacher is ultimately your partner in caring for your child's growth and learning. Engage them in that partnership, each of you bringing your own knowledge and expertise about the complicated children whose nurturing you share. 

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