Being overly friendly was never an issue of mine growing up. I was shy and it took me a while to warm up to people, let alone befriend them. My daughter was more like me when she was a toddler, but as she got older — and more used to being thrust into new environments, like day camp and after-school programs — her shyness became less pronounced. Her younger brother has always been a "joiner," so I never had to encourage him to use his social skills. However, there are times I I think my kid might be acting a little too friendly, because a child’s right to friendliness ends where another child’s discomfort with being approached begins. I know, because I was often the child who was uncomfortable when being approached.
I am proud of my children when I see them approaching a kid on the sidelines and in an attempt to include them in a group activity. However, I have to make sure my child doesn’t start insisting that the other kid get in the game. It can be hard for friendly kids to understand why another person wouldn’t want to join them, and even as a formerly shy child (and currently introverted adult), I find it difficult to articulate the reasons why certain people would shrink away from or decline an offer of friendship. As my children have gotten older, though, they are better able to grasp the concept of shyness, and are better equipped to understand that it may take some kids a while to get used to them before agreeing to play with them.
So while I’m grateful that my kids wear their inclusiveness on their sleeves, there are times when they might be displaying signs of being over-friendly, and the following moments require my close attention:
When They’re Getting Handsy
My six-year-old son has not yet grasped the concept of personal space. He touches my face to get my attention. He worms his way onto the lap of anyone reading a story. He is generous with his high-fives and pats on the back. However, I strongly believe in the “hands to yourself” rule, even if the touch is a friendly one.
It’s never too early to teach our kids about consent, and that means reiterating the “no touching” rule. As charming as it is to see my little boy put his arm around a friend when talking to him, or bring a pal in close for a hug, I do have to remind him to ask someone if it’s OK to touch them, before he actually touches them. Sure, my kid is just being friendly, but he needs to be mindful of giving people space and respecting everyone’s agency over their bodies.
When They Use Bribery As A Friend-Making Tactic
I’ve heard my kids promise candy, toys, even money to other children with whom they desperately wanted to play. This is never OK. When they were little, it was hard for my children to understand that friendship wasn’t attainable through any literal currency. They wouldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to play with them. Short of telling my kids “Hey, she just doesn’t want to spend time with you,” I would explain that maybe this particular kid wasn’t the right fit, but that there were others out there who couldn’t wait to be their friends. This rarely consoled them, but it was a truth they needed to learn.
When They Won’t Take "No" As An Answer
It’s heartbreaking to watch your kid follow another child around the playground, begging to play with them, while the child totally ignores them. It’s good to get in there to distract your pleading child because, eventually, the child being stalked will stop being annoyed and start getting angry. “No is no, so let’s find something else to do,” I’d say, when some kid was giving mine the cold shoulder. Again, it didn’t make my own child feel better, but it shifted the focus away from the dead-end situation.
When They Are Being Taken Advantage Of
It’s cruel, but I’ve witnessed it. I’ve also been a victim of it — wanting so desperately to be considered a friend by someone I admired, that I would happily give them my turn on the swing or offer the trinket I bought with my own quarter at the supermarket. Selflessness is admirable, but when my kid starts putting an ungrateful “friend” before herself, it’s time to help steer her away from this player.
When They Start Giving Away All Their Belongings…
I caught my son stuffing a dollar bill in his pants to give to someone at school… in kindergarten. “What’s this for?” I asked. He said it was for a friend, just because he was a friend. I had to explain that true friends don’t want money, they just want to share a good time with you. Still, every now and then I have to stop my kids from funneling their birthday money or beloved toys to children they are trying to win over. “It’s OK to let a friend borrow this because they’ll return it,” I tell them. “But if they are really your friend, they wouldn’t keep it.”
....And Even Some Of Yours
I learned to keep a close eye on my bracelets and scarves after catching my daughter trying to bring them to pre-school to entice other little girls into being her friends. Stealing makes me angry, but stealing in order to try and win someone over as a friend breaks my heart. My daughter, even at age four, knew not to take what wasn’t hers, but was willing to risk being chastised by her mother for the sake of making a new friend. One who shares my taste in accessories, apparently.
When They Can’t Recover From A Break-Up
Break-ups aren’t exclusive to those in romantic relationships. Friend bust-ups are common, especially with kids whose alliances are constantly shifting. This was a hard lesson for my third grader to learn last year. She’d come home devastated that supposed “friends” of hers would no longer include her in games at recess.
I remembered the same thing happening when I was a kid, and though my words didn’t make her feel better, I guaranteed her that these same girls would come back around one day. Friendships in grade school are often cyclical. “When those girls do decide they want to be friends again, it will be up to you to determine if they’re worth your kindness and loyalty,” I told her. Sure enough, three months later she was BFFs with them again, while keeping a seasoned eye on potentially fickle behavior.
When They Become Submissive To Other Kids
No friendship is worth eating a mudpie for. However, over-friendly kids might do anything, no matter how gross or demeaning, to keep their buddies. Doing someone a favor is one thing; doing whatever someone says and falling prey to an abusive power dynamic is not what I would want for my child.
When They Insist On Befriending Much Older Kids…
My kids have always gravitated to older children. I get the appeal; to my then five-year-old daughter, tweens led such aspirational lives, what with their glitter nail polish and ability to braid hair. My son, at age six, does not understand why the 10-year-olds don’t invite him into their game of tag. I have to get him to stop running into their game, hoping he’ll be noticed and included. He even starts water fights with older kids, baiting them into shooting their Super Soakers in his direction. He wants the attention of older kids so badly, he’s willing to get pummeled by them for it. (Any attention is good attention, to him.)
…Or Much Younger Ones
My daughter loves playing at one particular peer’s house, mostly because her friend has a little sister. My daughter enjoys entertaining the younger sibling, who thinks my kid is the cat’s pajamas (since her own older sister doesn’t give her that kind of attention).
While it’s cute to watch my daughter engage a younger child in play, I need to make sure my daughter doesn’t mistake this for a true friendship, and expect more from this little girl than she can give. It’s fine for my daughter to practice her babysitting skills with this little girl, but I don’t entertain any requests for playdates with kids more than a year or so younger than my kid. At their ages, a year is still a big difference in their social skill sets.
When They’re Having Trouble Distinguishing Between "Friend" And "Family"
Super close friends are like family. My two best friends are like the sisters I never had. Still, I do feel that my kids have an obligation to their family that trumps their friendships, at least at this point in their young lives. I realize this cannot (and should not) be the case if a child has a toxic family member. In those instances, a best friend is so much more than that: she can be a confidante, a lifeline, even a savior.
When my children are annoyed and frustrated by any of our rules (like the oh-so-horrible mandate of washing their hands before eating), and threaten to run away to live with their friends, I remind them they’d just be trading one set of rules for another. It’s OK to love their friends more than their siblings or their parents at times. I’m glad they found such wonderful people who appreciate their little personalities. However, I don’t want them to think their parents would ever love them more than anyone else on this planet. No matter how many tantrums they throw, and how many dirty fingerprints I point out to them, my love for them in unconditional and irreplaceable. There will always be room in their lives for friendships. I want them to know they don’t have to push us away to accommodate new, quality relationships.