by Barbara Gruener, Guest Columnist
Like friends, shoes come in all shapes and sizes, but for a pair to be a good fit, it has to be the right shape and size for your feet. The best way to get the perfect fit is to try shoes on before you take them home. That’s kind of how it works with friends, too. If they’re going to be a good fit for you, your friends should have qualities and values that connect with you. So what, exactly, do your students look for in a friend? Brainstorm a list and find out. For example, is it important that your friends be nice? Pretty? Truthful? Kind? Respectful? Rich? Responsible? Athletic? Smart? Funny? Generous? Fair? What other things might (or might NOT) make a good fit for your students? Give students time to discuss and explain their answers; be prepared to be fascinated by what they think and say. Before moving on, have them do a word cloud with the traits that make them a good-fit friend.
There are also tricky-fit shoes. You know the ones, they seem to fit you in the store, but when you try them on the next morning, they hurt your feet and don’t really fit at all. You may give them chance, but you quickly find they leave blisters on your feet. This can also happen with friends. What kinds of things do tricky-fit friends do that cause blisters in the friendship? Lie? Cheat? Steal? Break Promises? Spread rumors? Gossip? Hit? Use mean words? Ask students what they do with tricky-fit shoes. Have them buddy buzz to share their thoughts, and then ask: What are your strategies for self-care with tricky-fit friends?
One that we use at our school is taking a friendship time-out. We actually use our hands to make a T, signaling that we need a break, that something about the relationship isn’t working well right now, that we want a time-out. The T is a very empowering tool for a student who’s stuck in a yo-yo or tricky-fit relationship. What other gestures can students think of that might work? What other options do they have with tricky-fit friends? At this point, role-play some tricky-friend scenarios like these: What would you do if one friend said that you can’t be friends with your other friend anymore? What would you say if one friend started saying mean things about your other friends? What might happen if your friend gave you a best friends necklace but then wanted it back?
Finally, there are shoes that just don’t fit at all anymore. Maybe your foot has outgrown them, maybe they don’t give you the support you need anymore. Teach your children that when friends go in a different direction and just don’t fit anymore, it’s okay to say good-bye and walk away. Since this needs to be done with dignity and respect, we must give students the words that they’ll need and practice these conversations with them so that they learn to navigate socially through life as they look for and find friendships that fit.
Check out a few of my good-fit friendship faves:
Big Wolf and little wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme
- What will happen to Big Wolf’s heart when little wolf disappears?
Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller
- How will rabbit treat his new neighbors, the otters?
Don’t Need Friends by Carolyn Crimi
- Dog doesn’t need friends . . . or does he? What’ll happen when he gets sick?
Duck & Goose by Tad Hill
- Duck & Goose both want what’s best for their little “egg,” but they get more than they bargain for as they attempt to help it hatch.
Fox Makes Friends by Adam Rolf
- What ingredients does Fox need to make a friend?
Milo Armadillo by Jan Fearnley
- Milo isn’t exactly what Tallulah was looking for in a friend.
Our Friendship Rules by Peggy Moss and Dee Dee Tardiff
- What happens when the new girl comes between two friends?
Pink Tiara Cookies For Three by Maria Dismondy
- This sweet newcomer finds Sami and Stella learning to navigate through a triangle friendship.
The New Bear at School by Carrie Wilson
- Who’ll accept and be friends with Boris, the misfit newbie?
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania
- PB&J or hummus? Will differences separate these fast friends?
You Can Be A Friend by Tony Dungy
- What will happen when Jade wants to invite her wheel-chair-bound friend Hannah to her birthday party at the Water Park?
You’re Mean, Lily Jean by Frieda Wishinsky
- How do the sisters maintain their friendship when the bossy neighbor tries to come between them?
For even more amazing friendship titles, visit the Books That Heal Kids blog (where I get a LOT of my faves!) and my Books That Teach bibliography. What are your go-to friendship favorites?
About the Author
A bilingual educator who was raised on her family’s farm in Wisconsin, Barbara Gruener has been the counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales Elementary School in Friendswood, Texas for the past ten years. She’s also a motivational speaker and loves to influence and impact workshop participants in her signature Sing, Dance, Laugh and Build Character sessions. When she’s not at school, Barbara likes to write, read, knit, bake, and spend time with family and friends. Check out Barbara’s uplifting blog to read her inspirational stories about positive people and elevating experiences.