Friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts. I was reminded of this the other day when two colleagues disclosed that they had been friends since kindergarten and had shared the ups and downs of school years, teenage years, marriage, children and careers. Considering they are both baby boomers, that is some test of time. By today’s standards where everything is disposable, dispensable, recyclable and replaceable, it was quietly comforting to hear of something that had remained constant. When we finally roll up to the pearly gates and reflect on our lives, I daresay it won’t be the material things we’ll value the most, but rather the people we’ve held near and dear.

Our children are growing up in a very different world to previous generations. They can expect to change house, move schools, travel overseas, meet people from many cultures and develop cyberspace friendships all before they get the ‘key to the door.’ Previous generations had smaller lives, moved in tighter, more limited circles and befriended people primarily from their immediate neighbourhood or workplace.

The social and sporting lives of children are enough to leave the average adult’s head spinning. Friendships originate from a seemingly unlimited supply of activities: music lessons, dance practice, swimming training, sporting interests, after school care and last but not least – school.

On face value you’d think friendships would be easier to form and maintain than ever. But this isn’t always the case and chances are kids today will at some stage find themselves floundering with friendships, battling with bullies or rattled by relationships.

So how can we help our kids nurture lasting friendships?

Being a good role model is always a great place to start. Demonstrating that friends are important, showing care and consideration for the feelings of others and a willingness to compromise when differences arise, is all good stuff. Discussing ways to be a good friend in order to have a good friend, gives children sound grounding.

Encourage them to have a variety of friends. The old adage, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ makes sense, especially today, when children can move schools, states or countries before leaving primary school. Losing your best friend can become monumentally challenging and devastating if they are your only friend. Encouraging your kids to invite several children from a variety of sources into their life, is good insurance. Being watchful for others who endeavour to dominate your child’s time at the exclusion of others is sound practice. Nurturing that special bond that exists between ‘best friends’ comes naturally when the connection exists, but developing a wider social network simultaneously is equally important.

Sitting back and letting your kids fight their own battles within reason adds to their education on relationships. Falling out with friends is always tricky and with children it is doubly difficult, because you have parents to deal with as well. Unless the issue is of considerable magnitude, on most occasions, common sense and time-out can sort out most tiffs. Kids are resilient and forgive and forget at the speed of light, especially when a new game, toy or activity to explore together is on the horizon. Learning how to settle differences, negotiate with mates and compromise is all par for the course for future friendships so they might as well learn it young.

The flipside of friendship is bullying. Unfortunately it is on the rise in schools, not only in this country but globally. Bullying was once thought of as physical abuse carried out in a sly, secret way. Research has shown that emotional bullying is equally damaging. It manifests itself in many ways: teasing, name- calling, threatening, staring and excluding. The latter often inflicts the greatest degree of hurt by deliberately leaving others out of activities.

Psychological profiles of bullies universally indicate that they suffer from low self esteem, despite their bravado. Victims, also fall prey to low self esteem and in many cases resort to bullying themselves in order to break the cycle. Schools have anti-bullying policies in place and discipline strategies to prevent such behaviour, but a bully becomes a master of disguise and their behaviour often continues despite the best efforts of teachers and parents to minimise its chances.

Letting a child who is being bullied, know that they can do something about it, is the first step. Giving them strategies for action, rather than reaction is empowering. Most kids relate to the experiences of others and books on both the topics of friendship and bullying are a great way to share ideas and deliver positive messages. Two Australian authors who have written about friendship and bullying are Sue Whiting and Susanne Gervay .

Sue’s book, Elephant Dance touches on the topic of ‘falling out’ with friends and Susanne’s, I am Jack delivers a first hand account of her son’s experiences with bullies. Both make for great reading.

Elephant Dance. Koala Books.

Written by Sue Whiting and illustrated by Nina Rycroft, Elephant Dance is a touching story about the universal theme of friendship. Two elephants, Hugo and Millie are the central characters. They share a special friendship until a difference of opinion causes a commotion and a parting of the ways. Pride gives way to loneliness and when Hugo’s solo journey lands him in danger, Millie comes to the rescue. The result is a happy reunion, with both characters wiser for the experience.

The text has great rhythmical appeal, which lends itself beautifully for reading out aloud with young audiences joining in.

Bright colours on the cover are continued throughout the story delivering a visually attractive and appealing journey. The target audience is 3 – 8 year olds, but the message of friendship being a cornerstone of our lives, makes it a suitable read for a variety of age groups.


I Am Jack. Angus and Robertson

Susanne Gervay’s novel, I Am Jack, is based on the experiences of her own son at the hands of schoolyard bullies. It addresses the isolation and desperation of the victim of bullying, yet contains just the right mix of humour to keep it entertaining and enthralling for its intended audience – children.

The book highlights to both parents and educators, how changes in a child’s behaviour are the initial warning signs. It also serves as a timely reminder of how busy lives can sometimes leave us unaware of important signals being sent from those closest to us.

The story is woven around Jack’s family life with his single mum, Rod, his soon to be step dad, his sister Samantha, his nana and his best friend, Anna.

I Am Jack, addresses the problem of bullying in a warm, uplifting way and more importantly extends a message of hope to any child who falls prey to this insidious practice.

The story is currently being adapted for a play by Monkey BAA Theatre and will be touring in 2008. Increasing numbers of schools are including the novel as part of their anti-bullying programs with great success.