Help Your Child Make Friends

Don’t miss Rebecca Isbell’s great article "Practical Playtime" in the August edition of ParentLife about helping kids develop social skills through play. Dr. Isbell offers a few additional tips for our blog this month. Check it out below!

Some children are natural at initiating play — and relationships — with other children, while others must be guided. Here are some tips for ensuring your child will learn to make and keep friends.

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  • Start with the Golden Rule. “Have them consider, ‘Would you like it if Jayden did that to you?’” says Corinne Gregory, founder of SocialSmarts, a nationally-recognized program that teaches good social skills, positive character, and values to kids. “Young children are not aware of how much power they have to make other people feel good or bad. To build and keep friends, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Keep reinforcing this concept with your child, praising positive behavior when you see it and gently correcting the negative.”
  • Offer consistency. “Teaching the concept of ‘friend’ comes best when there can be one consistent one-on-one situation, one consistent family with whom you and your child feel comfortable,” says Andrea Gould, Ph.D., president of Lucid Learning Systems. “After mastering the art of playing peaceably with one other youngster, preferably close in age, a child can learn, with guidance, to generalize about friendship, its comforts, and its challenges. Good experience generalizes readily.”
  • Foster empathy. “Learning to recognize and interpret social cues such as a sad face, a laugh, or a child’s need to be alone can determine whether or not your child will make and keep friends easily,” says Jackie Gass, president of Sunbrook Academy and early childhood development expert. “You can promote the process [of developing empathy] through everyday experiences by talking about facial expressions of others and asking, ‘How do you think she feels?’ or ‘How does that make you feel?’ or ‘Does he look happy or sad?’ You can also encourage this by expressing your own feelings or through books and games.”
  • Pay attention and discuss what you see. “Talk to your child about what to expect when you go to the park, attend a birthday party, or school,” says Vicki Folds, Ph.D., vice president of education and professional development at Children of America. “If your child dominates situations, discuss how the other children might be feeling if they never get a turn. If your child stands back and waits for others to engage them, you might want to encourage your child to initiate a game. At the end of a play day, encourage your child to tell you about the day, about the friends they made, and what they did. This helps them remember events and build relationships.”