Friendships are important for our school-aged children. Are there things you can do to help your child make and keep friends?
We can all remember our first best friend and the school friends that were an important part of our growing years. For most of us learning to be a friend came with its ups and downs. It is likely we have faced challenges in some of our friendships and found incredible joy in others. Children being able to make friends will depend on skills that they can develop and practice.
Parents can help their children by teaching and supporting conversational skills, interpersonal skills and emotional self-control:
- Practice conversational skills. Role model communication skills by engaging your child in frequent conversations. Help your child learn how to respond to questions, but to listen as others are speaking. Encourage your child to use words to express her needs and wants. When other children are around, encourage your child to practice conversational skills by asking your child to share a story.
- Support interpersonal skills. Children who are friendly tend to find making friends easier. Encourage your child to share, use nice manners and respect other’s personal space. Playing board games with children can help them acquire and practice some of these skills. For older children issues like keeping secrets, showing empathy and fitting in will become greater issues. These issues can be best addressed through open conversation. Ask your child about their friends, encourage them to share stories—listen and provide guidance where you can.
- Teach emotional self-control. Assist children in being able to manage their feeling without infringing on others. Children who struggle to manage their actions may often be rejected by their peers. Many children will learn to cope from the adults in their life. Role model ways to express feelings. Be sure to teach strategies for helping children manage anger, frustration, rejection and disappointment. It is important that children’s feelings are validated—so be sure to listen and give empathy while setting expectations for their behavior.
- Encourage peer relationships. Provide your child with opportunities to practice these skills with other children. Socializing has changed—when I was young you wandered the neighborhood and met all kinds of kids. Today there is so much scheduling involved with play dates, sports activities and camps. Be sure to provide your child with a broad range of experiences so that he can learn to “make friends” with diverse groups of children. Some children prefer smaller groups or one-to-one activities with peers.