"Don't forget, you aren't allowed to play with him on the Xbox the rest of the week. The last three times you have had him over you have had complete meltdowns. The way you were acting toward him was not kind, and not friendly. You may play outside or with toys, but not with the Xbox," I said.
"That's okay. We aren't friends anymore," my 6-year-old replied back to me.
"But that was yesterday, you can be friends today," I reminded him.
"Nope. Today at school we both agreed that we aren't friends anymore," he said, matter-of-factly.
I paused. I didn't know how to react.
"You are still friends," I said. "Just play outside with him and not on electronics this week, okay?"
This was a recent conversation I had with my son. It was a very surprising conversation because I didn't realize that he had reached this level of understanding how friendship works.
Now obviously, he and this boy are friends, and will be as they grow up; they play nearly every day, and have played together several times since this conversation happened. We live on the same block. But my son is starting to understand what it means to be a friend, and is holding offenses longer than he ever has before.
Normally my son would get in an argument with a friend and the two might appear to dislike each other for a few minutes, but then quickly they are friends again. Likely they realize that playing with someone is more fun than playing alone.
But not this time.
My son had held this grudge for over 24 hours, something I had never seen him do before.
As a college instructor of interpersonal communication I talk to my students about the various stages of friendship. We discuss friendship in very young children, where the relationship occurs simply due to proximity, like being at a play date together because your parents are friends. Then as we get older, we start to choose friends that can fulfill the needs we have, like they have a cool Xbox game or an elaborate American Girl doll collection. As children go through these stages, they often have lots of friends and forgive easily.
As kids get older, and we call them adolescents, they start to choose friends that have similar interests, and they tend to hold grudges and end relationships when arguments happen. This is practice for future adult relationships, and helps us understand the give and take required in a friendship. This is apparently the stage my son is starting to exhibit.
There are more stages that lead into the teen years, which are characterized by experimenting, cliques and trust building. Luckily I have a few years until those trying years.
I know my family is probably sick of my analyzing them and correlating them to interpersonal theories (my husband has said more than a few times over the years that I need to stop using terminology on him!), but sometimes I find it so fascinating.
There are so many lessons that we have to teach our children. How to be a good friend is another one of those important lessons that we cannot forget to nurture.
It makes me so sad that my son has reached this stage of friendship. Soon he'll be an adolescent, then a teenager, and not a boy- and I don't know what I am supposed to do with that.
Until then I will continue to support his social needs and decisions with encouragement and level-headedness.
And I'll definitely let him have his friend over the next time he asks ;)