Friends are important for our mental wellbeing. Friends can pick us up when we’re feeling down and make they can help us feel good about ourselves. Children aren’t born with the skills to make and nurture friendships, such skills need to be learned with support and guidance from adults. This includes role modeling and the opportunity for the kids to improve making, and sustaining friendships via practice.
Developing friendship skills
To develop good friendships, now and in the future, it’s important for kids to start learning the following skills:
- Self-control: being able to wait for what they want, using words to express their feelings rather than acting disruptively or misbehaving, giving others a turn with toys.
- Welcoming: being able to approach and respond to others positively – with a smile and greeting.
- Assertiveness: being able to say what they’d like.
- Consideration: being able to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, taking turns, being able to lead and follow what others want to do, being able to cooperate and share.
- Play skills: being willing to take part in games and make suggestions for play.
- Communicating: talking and listening to others in a friendly way, saying something to start a conversation.
- Helping: being willing to help others.
- Prediction: being able to understand how others might be feeling based on their behaviour, being able to predict how their behaviour might affect others.
- Thinking: about alternatives when things go wrong – for example, if other children want to play something different, thinking of whether to join them or finding someone else to play with.
- Coping: being able to respond to rejection, disappointment or disapproval without experiencing too much distress or winning without gloating.
- Empathy: being able to respond to others’ feelings with understanding.
- Flexibility: being open to hearing or learning about other points of view or ways of doing things.
It takes a long time to learn these skills. By no means is it easy but the effort is worth it in terms of your child’s mental health. These skills are so important that even they are developing well into adulthood. You can help children develop these skills by being aware of what friendship and empathy skills they’re developing, and giving them a hand when needed, some gentle coaching if they’re struggling with something, teaching them through your own modeling, and of course-unconditional love.
Puppet games or using their favorite stuffed animals, can be a good way to practice together – asking “What will the puppet do if we push him? If we smile at him? If we say we like what he’s doing?”