How to Encourage Your Child to Make Healthy Friendships
For many kids, building friendships comes as naturally as breathing in air or waking up in the morning. For others, the process is filled with landmines of fear, anxiety, and discouragement. Experts agree that friendship-building is a skill—and it can be learned.
The Popular Kids
Popular or well-liked children are successful in making friends and have strong pro-social skills. They show caring for others, often wanting to share something with them or help them in some way. They have strong verbal skills, so they can carry on conversations. They’re able to curb their own selfish or aggressive behaviors and instead are good at understanding the feelings of others and are respectful of different opinions. They’re able to make good choices to help avoid arguments or problems.
In general, children will reject those they perceive to be aggressive, disruptive, irritable, bossy, or selfish. The negative character traits raise a red flag: there could be trouble ahead for those who spend time with that person. But they gravitate toward those with positive social skills, knowing they’ll be appreciated, safe, and have fun with that person.
What Can Parents Do?
How can you help your child improve friendship-making skills? What can you do at home to model healthy interpersonal relationships? How can you support your child without intruding and undermining confidence?
If your child is one who struggles with making new friends, there are simple ways to help sidestep relationship landmines. Here are four ways you can empower your children to navigate the often murky waters of friendship-building.
- Develop Positive Social Skills. Help your child develop those necessary positive social skills, such as empathy, cooperation, problem-solving, and clear communication. Begin now to model and discuss ways to be a friend. Help your child notice when others need help and suggest they give it. Lead by example and try always to practice what you preach. Practice talking through a problem to find ways to cooperate. Suggest that when they notice that someone is hurting, they say kind words to them. Model a kind act or give a compliment. Explain that often just one kind word or action makes all the difference in building a friendship. Practice will help your child react appropriately in real life settings.
Role Play. One of the most powerful methods of changing behavior in children is found in role play. When children are involved in acting out ways to cooperate or what to do when a problem arises, the results are amazing. Role-playing can be done by physically acting out a scenario or through the use of puppets or dolls. Either way, your child is empowered to be part of the solution. Try it—you’ll be pleased with the results.Offer Play Opportunities. Children need many opportunities to practice their friendship-making skills. They need repetition to master cooperation or negotiate a solution to a problem as it arises in their play situations. Invite another child to have lunch at your home, or plan simple play dates in your community. Be sure to allow lots of unstructured play time in which the children can pretend play. Be nearby to guide and redirect when help is needed.
Stay Balanced. A good sense of humor is a wonderful character trait for both adults and children. Life isn’t perfect and friendships may bear a few battle scars. Children need to learn that conflict is a part of life. Thus, learning to resolve conflict is a real opportunity for personal growth. Making and keeping friends is a lifelong pursuit—it won’t be mastered in one day. Build on your child’s strengths. Compliment him when he does well, and listen to her when she wants to talk about her friendship ups and downs.
You can’t make friends for your children, but you can model, train, and redirect behavior in ways that support the skills they need to build healthy, happy relationships.
Skills for Forming Friendships
“Do you want to play cars?” (dolls, any other game or activity)
“That’s a cool bike. Can I ride with you?”
Why don’t you ask Cameron for help with your cars?
“Cameron looks sad maybe he would like to play with something else.”
“Can you think of something we could play?” or “Why don’t we try_____?”