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Helping Your Child Build Friendships

How many organized after-school activities are necessary and healthy for your kids? It is definitely important to encourage extracurricular activities. Too much downtime is inevitably spent watching television, playing on a mobile or a tablet and bickering with siblings. In addition, it is important for kids to learn how to balance mandatory activities like homework, household chores and tooth brushing with their fun, elective activities. 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 land mines of fear, anxiety, and discouragement. Experts agree that friendship-building is a skill that can be learned. 

The popular kids

In general, popular kids, meaning those who are successful in making friends, have strong pro-social skills. They show caring for others, often wanting to share something with others or help others in some way. Popular kids tend to have strong verbal skills so they can carry on conversations easily. They’re able to curb their own selfish or aggressive behaviors, and are good at understanding the feelings of others and seeing others’ perspectives. They’re also 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. These negative character traits tend to raise a red flag: there could be trouble ahead for those who spend time with that person. Popular kids tend to gravitate toward those with positive social skills, knowing they’ll be appreciated, safe and able to have fun with that person.

What can parents do?

How can you help your child improve their friendship- making skills? What can you do at home to model healthy interpersonal relationships? How can you support your child without intruding and undermining their confidence?

If your child 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:

1. 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 then offer to give it. Practice talking through a problem to find ways to cooperate. Notice when someone is hurting and say kind words to them. Model a kind act or give someone a compliment. 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.

2. 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.

3. Offer play opportunities. Children need many opportunities to practice their friendship-making skills. They need repetition to master cooperation, or negotiating a solution to a problem as it arises in their play situations. Invite another child to have lunch at your home or plan simple playdates in your community. Be sure to allow lots of unstructured playtime in which children can pretend play. Be nearby to guide and redirect when help is needed.

4. Stay balanced. A good sense of humor is a wonderful character trait for both adults and children. Life isn’t perfect and therefore friendships along the
way 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 your child when they do something well, and listen to your child when they want to talk about their 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.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed, is a retired teacher and freelance writer who specializes in articles about parenting, education and family life. She is the author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read, available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.



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