Friendship is more than just a social diversion for your child. Making and keeping friends provides opportunities for learning social skills and how to handle her emotions. When you teach your child to make friends, you establish a foundation of good character by teaching her about sharing and taking turns, kindness, patience, respect, gratitude, empathy, clear communication and cooperation.
Model the character traits you would like your child to imitate and that will make him a better friend. When you play with your child, ask politely if you can take your turn or for help with challenging tasks such as puzzles. Let him see what patience in waiting for your turn looks like. Say "Please" and "Thank you," and encourage him to do the same. Notice when he does something well and compliment him. When he is sad or frustrated about something, take time to let him know you see he is having a hard time, and that you are willing to help him solve the problem if he wants help.
Teach your child to follow rules and limits. Playing games or sports is one way to find friends with similar interests and learn basic physical skills at the same time. Your child will feel more confident making friends if she knows the rules and skills for the games other children are playing and can join in gracefully. Encourage her to have a welcoming attitude, noticing others' interest in playing and inviting them to play along. Learning to abide within social boundaries, such as asking before borrowing or solving problems with words, not physical aggression, will help her be the kind of person with whom others want to be friends.
Expose your child to many different social situations, both in the real world and in role play. Give your child opportunities to frequently interact with other children his age. Talk about how to handle himself appropriately at a birthday party, when he feels embarrassed, when he faces peer pressure or when cliques exclude him. Listen to his feelings and help him brainstorm ideas for how to respond to each situation. If he is nervous about a new social scenario or facing a friendship crisis, role-play with him what he could say or do to defuse the situation. Help him practice reading and responding to body language and other nonverbal cues and to recognize and respect other people's feelings and viewpoints. Practice the art of negotiation and compromise in play with him, so he doesn't become the playtime dictator with whom no one wants to play.
Teach your child conversational and listening skills such as eye contact, nodding and asking questions about what the other person is saying. Help her understand and clearly communicate her emotions using feeling words, such as excited, happy, sad, angry, nervous, worried, frustrated or calm. Notice when she is making a good choice or trying something new, outside her comfort zone, that demonstrates healthy friendship skills. Give her specific compliments, telling her how brave or self-controlled, kind or respectful she is being by making that choice.
Encourage your child to accept others as they are, not as he wishes them to be. Make a habit of being considerate and helpful to your child and teach him to do the same for others. In other words, whether your child makes friends easily or slowly, teach him that the best way to make friends is to be the kind of friend he would like to have.
- Some children are social butterflies with many friends, and some prefer just a few close friends. Neither way is better or worse than another. Therefore, the University of Florida Extension advises, "If you are concerned about your child making enough friends, stop to consider whether he just has a different social style than you do."
- Children go through stages of social clumsiness, insensitivity and unkindness, so the occasional faux pas is to be expected. However, if your child seems to lack at least a few mutual friends; has trouble winning or losing gracefully; lacks empathy for when others are hurt; bosses others around, or chronically insists on her own way; habitually talks too loudly; frequently teases or annoys other children; or is routinely ignored or taunted by other children, then your child is in need of more direct parental support and coaching in making friends. You may also consider whether with behavior like that she might benefit from professional counseling to help her learn to make friends.
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Washington County: Parents Can Help Children Make Friends
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: The Importance of Friendship for School Age Children
- University of Illinois Childcare Center: Social Skills Children Need to Make and Keep Friends
- Michigan State University Extension: Parents Can Help Children Make and Keep Friends with Emotion and Social Coaching
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