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Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children

by Michael Thompson, Catherine O'Neill Grace

Other authors: Lawrence J. Cohen

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Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson, PH. D. and Catherine O’Neill Grace. Library section 8 I: Life Skills: K-12. Friendship plays a crucial, but often hidden, role in the lives of children. Friendship begins at birth with the infant’s first friend, mother, then father, care givers, relatives, and finally those outside the family group. Toddlers first play independently, side by side. Eventually preschoolers learn to play together. Kids develop friendships with children with whom they get along or admire. These friendships can be deep and enduring. As children grow their friendships become more complex because they encounter emotion, jealousy, cruelty, loyalty, and betrayal as friendships wax and wane.
The authors use as examples particular children in local day care centers to illustrate how friendships develop, providing parents and other readers with a deeper understanding of the motives and meanings of social behavior among children. You will find discussions about “the power of the group” versus independence, the difference between friendship and popularity, how friendships differ by gender, whether all kids need a best friend, how kids manage conflict, betrayal and reconciliation, tools of dominance, why cliques form and what can be done about them.
Most poignant for me was the discussion about how children group themselves – some have many friends, some have a few friends, some have just one friend, and some have none. My heart goes out to the children who don’t have the social skills to make even a single friend, who don’t seem to fit anywhere, who are teased, made fun of, bullied, avoided like the plaque, or perhaps worst of all, totally ignored. We all know such children whether they be geeks, nerds, artsies, eccentrics, whether they have varying sexual orientations, or are of a different race of creed. Thompson tells how schools and teachers have developed teaching plans and methods to teach kindness, inclusion, respect, and courtesy. These tools can be easily adapted for use by anyone who works with children – in public school, Sunday School, or organizations like Scouts or 4-H, to make sure all kids are accepted just as they are, are included, find at least one friend in the group, and given encouragement and recognition by the teacher and the entire group. There is much parents, teachers and leaders of children can do to cut down on bullying, teasing and ostracization. You will find those tools in this book.
As parents we can’t help but inject our own residual feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, and ostracization from our own childhood into our children’s friendship dilemmas. The pain of ostracization can return as we ache for our own children’s friendship ups and downs. My mother used to tell me stories about a particular girl who made her life miserable as an adolescent. This made me feel less alone in my social struggles. Sadly, we also know and try to deal with adults who never learned the social skills to make and keep friends, perhaps due to childhood dysfunctional family relationships or conditions like autism or Asperger’s syndrome. They clash with others over trivial things, have emotional explosions inappropriate for the social situation, or drift along, always on the edges of the group, avoided by others.
This is a very interesting, readable book about the social behaviors of children. If you are a parent or teacher, or if you work with children as a den mother, advisor, or leader, you definitely need to read this book in order to understand the underlying meanings of social behaviors among children. Find out the feelings that are REALLY going on under the surface interactions of your class or group of kids. There is a LOT going on, and there is much you can do to model kindness, inclusion, and friendship for those children in your care. ( )
  Epiphany-OviedoELCA | Aug 10, 2014 |
great insight into children's social lives. ( )
  SunriseMom | Jun 7, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Thompsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grace, Catherine O'Neillmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Cohen, Lawrence J.secondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 034544289X, Paperback)

Friends broaden our children’s horizons, share their joys and secrets, and accompany them on their journeys into ever wider worlds. But friends can also gossip and betray, tease and exclude. Children can cause untold suffering, not only for their peers but for parents as well. In this wise and insightful book, psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D., and children’s book author Catherine O’Neill Grace, illuminate the crucial and often hidden role that friendship plays in the lives of children from birth through adolescence.

Drawing on fascinating new research as well as their own extensive experience in schools, Thompson and Grace demonstrate that children’s friendships begin early–in infancy–and run exceptionally deep in intensity and loyalty. As children grow, their friendships become more complex and layered but also more emotionally fraught, marked by both extraordinary intimacy and bewildering cruelty. As parents, we watch, and often live through vicariously, the tumult that our children experience as they encounter the “cool” crowd, shifting alliances, bullies, and disloyal best friends.

Best Friends, Worst Enemies brings to life the drama of childhood relationships, guiding parents to a deeper understanding of the motives and meanings of social behavior. Here you will find penetrating discussions of the difference between friendship and popularity, how boys and girls deal in unique ways with intimacy and commitment, whether all kids need a best friend, why cliques form and what you can do about them.

Filled with anecdotes that ring amazingly true to life, Best Friends, Worst Enemies probes the magic and the heartbreak that all children experience with their friends. Parents, teachers, counselors–indeed anyone who cares about children–will find this an eye-opening and wonderfully affirming book.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:15 -0400)

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Examines childhood friendship and the motivations behind children's social behavior, discussing cliques, bullies, best friends, intimacy and commitment differences in boys and girls, and other related topics.

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