I have been wondering something for a while: What do 5 and 6 year-olds mean when they say they're best friends? How would they explain the difference between a friend and a best friend? Is this the same for each child, or would different children explain the concept of a “best friend” differently?
When this came up again this week, I thought it was the perfect chance to explore this further...
I saw one student say excitedly, “Will you be my best friend!?” Then, the student who they were talking to just stared and wasn't sure what to do in this situation! It made me think that maybe they don't know what the other person means, and if so, how could they commit to something they are unsure of?!
So the class began a discussion about the question...
Will you be my best friend?
Jennifer: What does that mean, “my best friend”?
Brian: We're already friends, and I wanted him to be best friends, and it means, well, you get to play a lot and well, be good together and be nice to each other.
Jennifer: How is that different than being friends?
Brian: 'Cuz, friends you could accidentally hurt somebody or accidentally you could just medium loving, but best friends it's like full loving.
Jennifer: So you're saying that you wouldn't have an accident with your best friend?
Brian: You always look around and if your best friend's not there, you can go the way you're going, but if the best friend's there, you can go the other way so to not hurt them.
Jennifer: So that's the way Brian explain it, but I was wondering if other people mean something else when they say 'best friend'. Does anyone else have another way you would explain best friend?
Gabriel: I think it's a very good friend and not too good that you can't have like any other friends.
Grace: It's like you play each other all the time, but not all the time.
Mason: It's like if you have one best friend and someone else wants to be your best friend, that won't work.
Jennifer: Why not?
Mason: Because if you have two best friends, you might, like if you're playing with someone and the other one, if it's only a two person game.
Jennifer: So if the other one isn't playing with you at the time are they not your best friend?
Mason: No. They just can't play with both of them at the same time.
Jennifer: Do you guys agree that you can't be best friends with two people at the same time?
Reese: You could have more than two or three, you could have a lot of best friends, like you could have everyone in your class your best friend, but it would be hard to play a game with everyone, but it wouldn't matter. If they're away from you, or they';re with you, you're still best friends.
Leah: It can work because you can have a lot of friends in your life.
Gabe: You can have a lot of best friends because some people have a lot f best friends.
Alana: If your friend's not there, then you can make another new friend.
Jennifer: So I still don't understand what's the difference between a friend and a best friend?
Gabriel: I can answer it, the difference is your friend you can play at anytime but your best friend you can play at one time a week or couple time a week. Oh, or is it the other way around?
Jennifer: That is my question! (the class chuckles and or looks puzzled...)
Grace: A best friend is you agree to the other person's idea, like if someone had their way, all the time, they could let the other one have their way a little bit more times.
Jennifer: So you don't do that with a friend?
Grace: Well, you do it with a friend, too.
Sienna: I don't understand. It don't understand what's the difference.
Brian: Being best friends is like you help them, but being friends is like you can help or not help.
Grace: I don't understand because a friend can be like they can help too, and a best friend.
Olivia: I don't understand how it works.
Gabe: If your best friend has another best friend they would play with your best friend, they wouldn't play with you anymore and you have to find a best friend.
Rachel: I don't understand because I don't know like why somebody said if you have a best friend then you help them and you don't help friends.
Kellan: I don't understand like how a best friend gets to know a best friend.
Jennifer: Like how you become a best friend, not just a friend?
Jennifer: Does anybody else feel that way too?
(Many students): Yeah.
Reese: Actually you start out, so to make a best friend, you need to make a friend, then if you play with them and talk to them a lot, they become a best friend.
Reese: If you knew your friend a lot, then it's magic that they become a best friend.
Jennifer: So what you're saying makes me think you have to have time- a lot of time to get to know them.
Reese: Uh-huh and then they're you're best friend.
The class had to go to lunch at this point, and we had still not really figured much out, except to identify questions we all want to understand more about:
How is being "best friends" different than being "friends"?
If your best friend get another best friend do you have to look for a new one?
Can you be best friends with more than one friend?
How does a friend turn into a best friend?
Who decides who's the best friend? Do I ask them, or do they have to ask me?
This is important work! At this age, the students are just beginning to understand all the social norms and ways we interact with various people in our lives. Depending on our relationship, we often have different rules or ways to act- saying or doing things with certain people, and not others. For these students, it is profound that they are able to share what they still do not understand, to disagree respectfully and to work together to eventually share new discoveries.
The class agreed that if many people didn't know what exactly the concept of being “best friends” is, or how to do it, that they would be okay when others don't feel ready to use this term or agree to being “best friends”. Right now we do know that we have a lot of strong connections and beautiful budding friendships, and because they are still learning and testing social interactions, this is often changing as quickly as each student grows out of their shoes!
Stay tuned and please feel free to email or comment below if your family has more discussions or questions on this topic!