Affiliation—“I can have a friend and be a friend.”
We want children to become happy and productive members of society. One of the
stepping-stones toward this goal is for children to identify themselves as members ofa
larger group. For young children in our care, that translates into being an important
and useful member ofthe classroom community.Many children need help to make the
step from thinking the world revolves around them to identifying themselves as part of
a larger group.
Children who value being community members have a vested interest in the over-
all well-being ofthe group and are motivated to learn and apply empathy,social skills,
and conflict resolution.Children who possess basic friendship skills get along well with
their peers.They know how to enter a group without triggering conflict,and they know
how to “play car races.”They sing along with others during circle time and pass the
instruments around the circle when the signal is given.
Children may feel alienated from the classroom community for a number of rea-
sons: cultural differences, ability differences, physical differences, or because other
members of the classroom community have not drawn them in. They often exhibit
problematic behavior. Some may strike out at other children or become agitated, cry
and fuss,or fall into a tantrum.Other children might begin to withdraw and play more
and more often by themselves.When you have a child in your class who lacks “entry to
play”skills, how might that child try to join in with children who are building a tall
block tower? More often than not,they will knock the tower over,which is their inept
way ofsaying,“Can I play too?”Without appropriate play themes,these children might
toss baby dolls across the room instead offeeding them and putting them down to nap
or they might crash bikes into the fence instead of playing gas station. Children who
don’t know how to take turns or share might hoard all the glue at the art table or have
a tantrum when another child has the job ofline leader.
Children who feel alienated from their peers may be on a serious path to destruction.
Some ofthese children internalize their feelings ofisolation and end up being suicidal as
adolescents.In fact,statistics released in 2002 revealed suicide as the third leading cause
ofdeath among U.S.teens age fifteen to nineteen (National Center for Injury Prevention
and Control 2001).While some children internalize their isolation,others may external-
ize their feelings and become aggressive or may strike back. The Columbine disaster is
one example ofhow a group ofalienated young adults chose to express their isolation.
An alienated child is a potentially dangerous child. An affiliated child is on a
healthy path to success in school and in life.Help children connect with their peers and
to see themselves as a valued and essential part oftheir classroom community.
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