We all know the importance of friendships; they help children learn empathy, how to share, problem solve , increase creativity, and improve communication. Yet we can feel helpless as parents when our children experience friendship difficulties, or find it hard to establish sound friendships. Whether you have a shy child, an overly sensitive child, or a bull in a china shop, try teaching your child these skills to help them become more confident making and nurturing their friendships:
1. Practice introductions
This is particularly useful for children who are shy. Start initially by getting your child to practice introducing themselves to you at home, saying “hello, my name is Molly and I am 8 years old, what is your name?” Then encourage them to introduce themselves regularly to people when you are out and about.
2. Stay out of sibling arguments
Unless your children are being physically violent towards each other, leaving them to sort out their own disagreements is an invaluable way of teaching them how to resolve conflict. Your children might find this difficult at first if they are used to you sorting out their problems. However, if you start by acting as the ‘mediator’, allowing each child to express their views before presenting their solutions, they will quickly learn to sort future arguments themselves.
3. Play board games
Games are an excellent way to teach children to take turns, which is an essential skill for making and maintaining sound friendships. Start off with simple games such as snakes and ladders, moving up to more challenging games such as Monopoly, Risk snd Scrabble.
4. Model conflict resolution
Children learn so much from what they see. If we fall out with our partner and refuse to speak to them , or talk about one friend to another friend, our children are likely to exhibit the same pattern of behaviour in their friendships. We want to model to our children how we manage conflict with others by (1) Stopping what we are doing, (2) Explaining our thoughts and feelings (3) Listening to the response given by the other person, (4) Considering what we have just heard, and finally (5) Choosing an appropriate response.
5. Encourage a problem-solving mindset
When your child comes home from school and tells you about the latest difficulties they have had with a friend, resist the temptation to give them your solution to their problem. Instead simply paraphrase the problem, so your child knows you have heard them, and then ask how they could go about resolving the issue. Use the 5-step conflict resolution SELCC, outlined in the above point. It is important to follow up on these problem solving sessions to discuss how your child’s chosen strategies have worked, or not worked, and what they will do differently next time.
5. Descriptively praise their efforts
When we see our children taking turns, conceding to another’s ideas for playing a game, or managing conflict appropriately, we should praise their behaviour. This encourages our children to repeat more of this desirable behaviour, and has the side effect of bolstering their self-confidence too. Make sure you describe the behaviour which you are praising, rather than using general character traits, for example, “I noticed you let Sarah play her game first when you were desperate to play yours, you took turns and thought about what Sarah wanted to do. You showed great maturity in waiting to have your turn.”