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Accepted By Whom

“The question for the child is not ‘Do I want to be good?’ but ‘Whom do I want to be like?’ ” — Bruno Bettelheim

A second question could be added to Bettelheim’s insight, “By whom do I want to be accepted?” As children grow, the answer to this question becomes the answer to, “Whom do I want to be like?” Kids actively try to be like the people by whom they most want to be accepted. Sure, this includes many adult “role models” at home, at school, and most anywhere the child spends time. Importantly, though, it also includes the children with whom your child wants to be friends. The kids your child seeks out as friends and how skilled he is at friend picking is one of the least explored but most critical dimensions affecting whether he is “good” or not and how he understands the meaning of being good. When all is said and done, he will be as much like his friends as like you. As Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested, “Imitation is a necessity of human nature;” and your child is imitating his friends.

Muhammad Ali pointed out that it’s not easy to say exactly what a friend is, “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” It may not actually be “the hardest thing in the world to explain,” but it’s definitely among the most difficult. Henry David Thoreau said, “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” This doesn’t exactly explain what being a friend means either; but it points to an important element. Your children need to learn that friendship is based on action and meaning and not on words and promises. Albert Camus added another element when he said, “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” This extends understanding but still doesn’t complete the definition.

What you quickly see is that friendship has many elements and learning about them is complicated. The problem with this is that most kids are learning about friends and friendship mostly from other kids. Sure, parents and teachers are helping them learn how to behave, what’s right and what’s wrong, what to do and not do, and on and on. Still, they are daily learning about friends and friendship. What’s more, other kids are their homeroom teachers. – Do you know your child’s teacher? If not, ….

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