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How to Help Kids Make and Maintain Friendships
When kids start school, whether it’s preschool or big school, one thing dominates our minds: will they be happy? When the Children’s Society asked kids what made them happy, friendship was the one thing they mentioned most (Telegraph, 2016).
Friendships are a hugely important part of growing up and fundamental to our kids’ emotional and social development. They’re also important in making a positive impact on learning and ultimate success in school. To help kids make and maintain friendships, they’re going to need our help and support. When it comes to learning, friendships can have a positive impact through:
- Nurturing a positive attitude towards learning and school
- Increasing self-confidence by having friends’ support
- Developing strong self-esteem, enabling them to take greater risks with their learning
- Developing social competence allowing them to become active and engaged learners
- Learning about themselves and developing as an individual
- Enriching their learning by enlisting friend’s help when needed, or providing that help to their friends
- Developing their emotional intelligence as they practice empathy and active listening skills
- Igniting a passion for learning by doing it with friends they trust and whose company they enjoy
- Decreasing stress, allowing kids to concentrate more on their learning
- Practising their communications skills
- Encouraging good behaviour so learning time isn’t lost
- Developing their problem-solving skills, how to deal with conflict and strengthening their ability to negotiate different situations
- Boosting happiness and a sense of well-being
- Promoting independence.
But as any parent knows, friendships are fraught with difficulties. They can be hard for kids to navigate and at times, painful. The ups and downs we witness with their friendships are often enough to want us to help kids make and maintain friendships.
The skill of making and maintaining friendships is one we’re not born with. Our kids need our help to guide and teach them right from the start. So how do we do that? How can we help kids make and maintain friendships, without taking over?
Below are ten tips you can use to provide on-going support to your child so they can master this skill successfully.
How to help kids make and maintain friendships
1. Model, model, model
Our kids are constantly watching and learning from us. This provides a great opportunity to model the kind of behaviour we want to see in them. You can model through the way you speak about and treat your own friends. This could be when making a new friend or through the positive and understanding way you talk about them. You can also model through the various people you come into contact with throughout your day. It might be the way you speak with the supermarket cashier or the opening lines you use when you meet someone new, like another parent at school.
2. Teach empathy
When opportunities arise, talk to your child about how someone else might be feeling and how they may see something differently. When we strengthen and develop their capacity to be empathetic and understand others, they’re able to feel more connected to their friends and develop stronger bonds.
3. Encourage questions
It’s often difficult for kids to strike up a conversation or keep a conversation going; especially with someone new. Talk to them about the kind of questions they could ask in these situations. They could include questions such as, what the other child did at the weekend or what their favourite colour is.
It can help to do role play with your child, especially if they’re having a difficult time with a friend. They could play the person they’ve fallen out with followed with a discussion about how that person may feel. It reinforces empathy, helping your child understand that others may have a different point of view. You could then change roles.
5. It’s not personal
Kids are often scarily quick to blame themselves for something. When your child feels upset by a friend’s behaviour for example – help them see that it could be for a number of reasons not related to them. Maybe the child in question had a late night and was feeling tired that day. Maybe they’d been some upset at home and they were feeling too sad to play. By learning not to take things personally, your child can free themselves of unnecessary upset.
If your child is having difficulty making friends or has moved somewhere new, arrange a play-date with one child and keep it short. You can build it up as your child gets more confident. At the play-date, be available to guide and support if needed. If arguments erupt, give your child the opportunity to resolve them, but step in if they fail to resolve it or if the level of behaviour becomes unacceptable.
7. Praise, praise, praise!
Acknowledge and praise your child if they tell you, or you witness them displaying positive behaviour towards another child. For example, if they mention that they included a new person in their play, tell them how proud you are of their thoughtfulness and consideration. Reinforce this at every opportunity.
8. Help them to name emotions
Young kids can struggle to cope with and understand their emotions. To help them, name the emotion they’re feeling. For example, you might say, ‘I think you were feeling frustrated when…’. It’s also important to acknowledge their feelings when helping them with behaviour. You may say something like, ‘I understand that you felt angry when that happened, but it’s dangerous to…’.
9. Read books about friendships
Reading books to kids about friendships can be a reassuring way for them to learn about the problems they may be experiencing.
10. Take time to talk
Have a time each day to talk about their day. These talks will often throw up worries they have regarding friendships. It gives you an opportunity to talk things through and guide them on how they might behave or allow them to see that their friend wasn’t having a good day.
These tips will help your child effectively master the skill of making and maintaining friendships. Sometimes however, the friendship situation can require greater action. If your child is involved in an unhealthy friendship, with bullying for example, then you’ll need to talk to the school and take appropriate action.
As with most things, it’s us as parents that can make all the difference. Most kids will be able to cope pretty well with the ups and downs of friendships with our unconditional love and support behind them. We can’t make their friends for them, but we can provide the safe and supportive foundation they need to master this essential life skill. From this, they can go on to develop healthy, positive friendships outside of the home.
Over to you…
Is this something that your child has struggled with? Is there a particular area you’d like more help with that hasn’t been covered in this post? If so, or if you’d like to share your own experience, I’d love to hear from you in the comments 🙂