Friendship can be defined as pleasure in the company of others, it is a reciprocal relationship in that support is expected to flow both ways. Friendships give children a context to learn social skills, they learn about themselves and other people, they provide emotional and learning resources and they provide models for subsequent relationships.
If you are worried about your child’s friendships, there are a few things you can do. It’s important to start by considering whether your child is someone who requires many friends. Some more introverted children prefer few friends compared to other more extroverted children. Some children also establish closer friendships with peers outside of the school setting, possibly even on-line. Keep in mind that the virtual world is just like the real world and children will need appropriate levels of parental supervision and support.
The following things may seem obvious to parents who have had many years to develop their social skills, but it is worth thinking about whether your child is able to do the things expected of a friend? Does your child’s body language invite others to interact? Do they know how to establish appropriate eye contact? Do they have an open posture and an inviting facial expression? Does your child sound friendly, expressive and pleasant? What is your child’s tone, pitch, rate and volume? Does your child have a range of appropriate greetings and introductions they can use in different situations? Do they know how to start conversations? Do they have a range of simple questions or topics that they can talk about? When they engage in a conversation, do they know how to answer a question, do they take turns allowing the other person to speak? I frequently use the analogy of a dance when talking about parenting. It’s important to be there to provide support when needed but equally important to stand back a little to allow them to give it a go alone. Ensure that there is the right balance between under and over involvement of parents.
Provide praise to your child as they learn and practice their skills. Offer opportunities for them to self-reflect on how things went. Keep a growth mindset. Any difficulties should be a learning opportunity. What could we do differently? Who could help?
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.