“Decades of research suggests that parents play a big role in teaching children how to make friends. The most popular kids are prosocial—i.e., caring, sharing, and helpful. They also have strong verbal skills and know how to keep their selfish or aggressive impulses in check. Most of all, popular kids are good at interpersonal skills: empathy, perspective-taking, and moral reasoning” (Slaughter et al 2002; Dekovic and Gerris 1994).
Helping Your Child With Friendships
Some children seem to discover these skills intuitively, but many children will need coaching and help. You can help your child with:
Practice and even rehearse or script scenarios with your child, like greetings, compliments, and showing kindness. Does that seem contrived? We do it when we teach our children manners on receiving gifts or leaving a play date, "Say thank you, or thank you for having me," but its equally important to teach children how to initiate play at a break time or in a playground. Giving them ways to join in: Noticing what is already happening, asking permission, and then offering something that would compliment or help their game.“That looks fun, May I join in? I could go in goal, or I could play the baby sister in your game.”
Children in primary school often base friendship on similarity- they look for strong shared interests. So helping your child find and talk about things they have in common with other children. “ I like football too,” “Ohh, That’s my favourite film too”. When arranging play dates, it can help to arrange do a shared interest, are often more successful than open ended play. "Lets get together to play football." "Come over to bake a cake with us." If your child is struggling with friendships, you might want to ask what all the kids are into at school. When your child is desperate for the"in" trading cards, or recent fad toy (a fidget spinner or yoyo), I could seem like they just want another toy, but for some children they need that common interest toy as a focal point of similarity in their friendships. Its what the conversations at break time are all about. In more mature stages of friendship they won't need these toys to form friendships, but adult do this too (think how often people chat about sports results of teams they support, or new telly programmes they are into to build rapport with others)!
Foster empathy and concern
When appropriate, talk about what you feel, so your child develops emotional llteracy and emotional awareness. Look through books or magazines together and teach your children to read facial expressions. Talk about what the person might be feeling, or what might have happened to make them feel that way. Ask your child about times they’ve felt that way, and what someone could do to help or encourage them. As children get older, and are able to read short novels themselves, this can be a great way of getting inside other's heads and understanding what makes them feel the way they do.
We sometimes do a conversation tool called "Hi-Lo" at the dinner table. Each person gets to share their highlight and lowlight of the day (What was great? What was hard?). This will build connection as well as empathy and concern.
Helping your child to manage their temper and exercise self control are life long skills that will help significantly in relationships. Here are some things to teach as they grow:
Luke 6:31 NIV Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Proverbs 22:24-25 NIV Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.
Use Words- (age 2-5) Firstly, when they want something or are upset or angry, teaching them to articulate their feelings rather than cry/scream or hit/bite is a key skill.
Learn Patience- (age 3-8) Secondly, helping children to not say the first thing that pops into their head, learning to take turns. Waiting, not interrupting and talking about things in the right context is an important skill to learn. This skill is about valuing other people, and seeing other's needs as important. Patience says "you matter as much as me."
Learn to Shift your mood- (age 6-18) finally, helping your child to identify if they are nervous, tired, hungry, angry or over excited, and do something constructive about it. They might go run around, bou nce on the trampoline, eat something, get some time on their own in their room, play or listen to music, colour or journal, or chat to a friend or parent. As your child matures they will get better at recognising what they need and doing it, but this usually needs coaching.