Your child’s friends are a special part of their lives, helping to build emotional, social and psychological structures. Parents play a big role in helping children to develop the necessary social skills to build new friendships. Encouraging your child to be independent, considerate and willing to listen will provide them with important life skills that come with making friends. Play is a big part of how children connect and make friends at school so helping them develop the social skills to interact in a healthy and fun way will be critical to them enjoying school and learning.
Dr Anna Cohen, Sydney’s leading Clinical Child Psychologist provides tips to parents on how to encourage positive social interactions and support your child’s friendships without placing too much pressure on them.
- Encourage positive play at home. Teaching your child co-operative play and sharing at home will be the key to them connecting with others at school. Sharing is not a skill children are born with instead it must be learnt. Finding ways at home to incorporate taking turns with games and activities, listening to each other and working together by giving them small tasks will greatly help teach your child how to interact and play considerately with others. To encourage positive play between siblings draw attention when they are cooperating with each other and acknowledge them as a team for conflict-free periods.
- Talk about it. Taking an interest in your child’s friendships will encourage them to have an open line of communication with parents and talk about any problems they may have. This can provide a base for how they deal with conflicts and will give you the opportunity to help guide them to positive solutions. Ask specific questions such as what games they played during the day and who they played with, so when it comes time to organise a play date you know who they are getting along with.
- Help teach them to deal with conflict. It is important for parents to coach your child through issues of conflict rather than step in and solve it for them. You want to teach them to understand the problem so they are able to come to a resolution. Your child needs to learn that conflict is not negative and that disagreements are part of all relationships and friendships and conflict can be resolved. Letting your child independently work out a solution will empower them and develop both their problem-solving skills and self-efficacy.
- Organise play dates and activities. Support your child’s friendships with opportunities to strengthen their relationships outside of school. You could choose an extracurricular activity that your child finds fun that will help them create new friendships or something simple such as offering to carpool that will provide a casual opportunity for interaction. This is also a good time to observe your child’s behaviour with their peers and guide them, if need be. It is also important to fosters friendships outside of the school social with children not from the same school, so if things are difficult socially a school they have other friends that can support them.
- Be a role model for good social behaviour. As parents, it is our job to demonstrate model behaviour and communication that is respectful, so that our children can learn to behave considerately with their peers. Demonstrating behaviour such as helping others, being a good listener and being friendly and interested in others will encourage your child to model that behaviour.
Children will continue their social interactions as they progress through school but starting them off with the best social skills possible will create a path to them having lifelong friendships.
For more information or professional advice contact Sydney’s leading Child Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen at Kids & Co. – www.kidsandco.com.au