Making and keeping friends is a central part of entering school. Teaching your child prosocial friendship skills is a valuable part of your relationship with your children.
Where do you begin?
A. A few great books have been written on friendship skills. Ones from the American Girls library include: Friends: Making them and keeping them; The Feelings Book, and Stand Up For Yourself and Your Friends. For middle school children and teens Queen Bees and Wanna Bees is a must-read for parents. For parents who wish to coach their teens to health and wellness, The Parent as Coach by Diana Sterling is amazing for parents of teens.
B. Healthy friendship skills begin with confidence and self-respect. Children who have self-esteem are able to be kind, share, and include others in their friendship circles.
C. Knowing your own social style and what is unique about your child is another fine starting point. Emphasizing that everyone is different and we are all special in our own ways enhances acceptance and tolerance among children.
Here are a few, little discussed, tips on helping your children develop their friendship skills.
1. As young as age four you can begin to help your child discover his or her personal style. What kind of child is yours? Help her see that she is bright, funny, articulate, caring or thoughtful. Teach her how to recognize positive social skills in others so she chooses skillful friends who are likely to share her values.
2. In order to help your child see when she is using prosocial friendship skills, comment specifically on what your child does in her friendships that shows she cares.
“When Jose hurt his arm and you offered to sit with when he could not play, that was a kind thing to do.”
“Offering your sister your sweater at the skating rink when she was cold was a thoughtful thing to do.”
3. Teach your child to observe the behavior of others non-judgmentally in a manner that helps her to see how other people behave. Talk with her about how other people respond to that behavior.
4. As your child gets older help her develop the ability to observe the impact of her behavior on others.
5. Giving your children the words and actions to: a. enter into and exit social groups, b. include other people in their group and c. recognize what characteristics your child wants in his or her friends is invaluable.
Talk with your children about what makes a good friend. Write a short story or a book on what one does to show respect, integrity and honesty. If there is a school-mate who criticizes others or mocks others, that is not a friend you wish for your child to choose as a close mate. Draw distinctions between kids who are willing to lift one another up and those who desire to feel powerful by cutting others down.
Here are some sample social skills you might wish to introduce to your children one skill as a time. Role-play with your children, create positive conversations with your children and teach them the importance of learning these skills.
Sample List of Skills
• Accepting "No"
• Accepting Consequences
• Arguing Respectfully
• Asking a Favor
• Asking Questions
• Being a Good Listener
• Being in a Group Discussion
• Conversational Skills
• Declining an Invitation
• Expressing Empathy
• Following Rules
• Good Sportsmanship
Developing friendship skills can be fun. So practice, play and enjoy with your children. Friendship will follow.