If you grew up in a big family or small community then this topic might seem downright silly. Don’t all children naturally develop friendship skills? Do we really have to teach our children about friendship?
Developing friendship skills used to happen more naturally when we played in the street with the neighbours’ kids or even learned how to get along with our brothers and sisters in a big family. However, children are growing up with fewer siblings and fewer opportunities to play with others than even a decade ago. There aren’t many communities where parents can send their children into the street to play with others and tell them to come home when it gets dark.
So how do we teach our children friendship skills if they aren’t developing naturally? What are friendship skills in the first place? If we grew up with them coming naturally, how do we know what they are in order to teach them to our children?
Here is my list of six friendship skills to teach your child::
1. Be a good friend.
Talk to your child about the kind of friends they would like and explore how they might be that kind of friend to someone else. For example, they might say they want friends who are kind or share things. This provides the opportunity to ask how good your child is at being kind and sharing their things. Kindness is something that we emphasise a lot at GCC, especially in Primary. Kindness is a firm foundation for good friendships throughout life.
2. Find a good friendship group.
It’s easy for children and teenagers to want to belong to what is perceived as the popular or cool group in school but this could be a disappointing journey for them.Talk to your children about finding friendship groups that share their interests or values. It might be a group that likes playing handball, joining one of the library clubs or just hanging out in the playground.
3. Develop more than one friendship.
Children are children and do not have sophisticated social tools to navigate the ups and downs of friendship. There will be falling outs with friends – it is a part of life and growing up. It can be a lonely experience if their one and only friend no longer wanst to hang out with them. There is nothing wrong with your child having a best friend but talk to them about including others and enlarging the group.
4. Deepen their friendships.
Take an interest in your child’s friends and ask how they are doing. This will provide you with the opportunity to teach skills like empathy if their friend is going through a tough time. How did they respond when their friend told them? What things could they say to show empathy to their friend? Big emotions are tricky for children. One skill that often has to be taught is being happy for their friends’ victories and achievements. This is especially hard if your child was competing for the same prize. Talk to your child about this being a good opportunity to be happy for their friend and how much they would appreciate that if the roles were reversed. Your child can express their disappointment and sadness to you and then be there to celebrate with their friend.
5. Develop coping mechanisms for challenging times.
Sadly, research has shown that children who are disliked and avoided the most are those who have difficulty handling their emotions. Even adults struggle to respond to someone who lashes out and this is much harder for our young ones. If your child is someone who struggles with self-regulation then help them find coping mechanisms that work for them. Audrey Monke from Sunshine Parenting talks about ways for parents to help their children with these challenges.
6. Intentionally role-model good friendships.
It is good to role model being a good friend but take it one step further and talk to your children about it. Tell them why you value your good friends and talk to them about the importance of spending time together and helping each other. Rewrite your children’s impressions from ‘mum and dad are having people over again’ to ‘mum and dad are spending time being good friends with others’. It’s a subtle but important distinction.
At GCC, we value friendship and help our students navigate what can sometimes be a tricky area. Our students are taught how to put out ‘friendship fires’ and how to cope when friendships break down. We are grateful that what we do in and out of the classroom is reinforced by our GCC families. Thank you for teaching your children how to be good friends.
Mike Curtis, Principal