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Parents Make a Difference in Childhood Friendships

children, friends, friendships, parenting

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Making friends is an important part of child development. Parents can be helpful in coaching their children to treat people in a friendly manner, arranging playdates and staying nearby to help kids learn social skills.

The following is a scenario in which the parents could have helped the children make friends:

Seven-year-old Briley was enthusiastic about getting to go out for dinner with her family and her parents’ friends. Her 5-year-old sister also was excited. They found a table and played I-spy games until the other family arrived. The adults greeted each other with hugs and handshakes. The children sat down and stared at one another across the table. As the parents quickly became engaged in conversation, it was obvious that the kids were not well-acquainted with each other.

After a few minutes of staring silence, Briley sized up her audience and said, “So, how much teeth have you lost?” It was the perfect opener for this table of early elementary children. It was a topic near to their hearts. They all were losing teeth.

Great conversation ensued. Some stories were met with empathy, some with laughter and some with well-earned disbelief. This child had really hit the mark with her conversation starter.

Here are a few concrete ways parents can help young children establish and maintain friendships.

  • Teach children how to enter play. Children who barge into the room and kick down all of the block towers are hard to tolerate. Likewise, kids who don’t try to engage with anyone are easy to ignore. Instead, teach your child to start by watching what the other kids are playing and then asking to join as an “extra,” such as the puppy in a game of pet store.
  • Children who know a friendly greeting such as, “Hi, I’m Ashton. What’s your name?” and “What are you playing?” likely will be accepted pretty quickly.
  • Some children can be slow to warm up to new situations. If that is the case, sit with your child and make suggestions but don’t push. Most kids join in the fun on their own time.
  • Another set of friendship skills revolves around being positive: sharing toys and conversation time, cooperating, using compliments and good manners. Getting along with others sometimes requires giving other people the first turn or the biggest piece, which can be difficult for young children.
  • Adults need to help kids learn how to best handle the inevitable conflicts that will arise by recognizing and appropriately expressing feelings, standing up for themselves, listening and problem solving.
  • Last but not least, teach children about empathy and understanding by modeling positive social behaviors.

All of these important steps can go a long way in helping children learn and remember what to do to make and keep special relationships healthy.

For more information on healthy child behavior, visit the Children, Family and Finances section of the NDSU Extension Service website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/cff or contact your county office of the NDSU Extension Service.

Source: Kim Bushaw, NDSU Extension Service family science specialist, 701-231-7450, kim.bushaw@ndsu.edu

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