Everyone needs friends, they are a crucial part of life, especially during the confusing formative years. They provide support, security and a sense of belonging. Navigating friendships however is not always easy, even as an adult it can be difficult to ensure you are maintaining boundaries, showing empathy and resolving conflict appropriately. It is so important to guide your child during their first friendships and give them skills for life and the best opportunity to have a solid social group. The benefits of healthy friendships are many, not the least of which is the comfort they provide when your child is constantly being placed in new environments, from childcare to kinder, then primary school.
Friendships help children understand their emotions, empathy, and compassion. Having someone they care about means they learn to share, and they start to consider the effect of their behaviour on others ie. If I don’t share my toy, my friend will be sad.
It also helps build social skills like communicating your thoughts and feelings, ie. When you take my pencil it makes me angry. Cooperation and compromise ie. We can play your game first, then we will play mine.
Friends also provide a support system when your child is struggling with anything from a scraped knee to learning how to tie their shoes. Knowing they have friends to turn to makes them feel more secure, and knowing they have friends to share their triumphs ie. jumping over a particularly large puddle also adds to their joy.
Friends introduce your children to different perspectives and interests, giving your kid a chance to grow and experience new (and hopefully positive) things.
So how do you teach social skills? Firstly by leading by example. Children will behave however you behave, no matter how many times you tell them otherwise. So make sure you are demonstrating kindness and respect for your friends and family. Remember, your kids are always listening (even when you are on the phone and you think they are watching their iPads), so be careful what you say.
You must teach your child not just to listen, but to be actively listening, not staring away silently like when you ask them to put their shoes on. Explain the importance of taking an interest in other people and asking what they are doing, not just talking about themselves.
Clear communication is a big one, you want your child to know how to express themselves and be assertive if necessary while remaining respectful. This is crucial for kids who just follow what everyone else wants to do because they don’t want to upset anyone. An early start on standing up for themselves can make those tougher teenage years a little easier.
Empathy is not something that always comes naturally, it is good to help your child understand how others might feel in different situations. A simple way is to ask, "How would you feel if this happened to you?".
Teaching your children social skills empowers them to build and maintain healthy friendships that will benefit them throughout their lives. It is not likely that your little ones are going to pick up all of these skills immediately, so try and be patient, offer guidance and step in if you have to. Remember, you are not just teaching your child to be a good friend you are helping to shape the next generation. Good work parents!
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