Friendship seems so natural for young children that we often assume friendship is a default result of playing together on the playground. However, fostering the life skill of friendship is absolutely not that simple. Friendship requires not only courage to make friends, but work to keep them! We know that the only way to have a friend is by being a friend. Here are some ways you can plant seeds of being a good friend and water your child’s life-long friendship skills.
Cooperative play. The beginning stages of making friends involve planned activities for social interaction with others. Find activities for your children to share with their friends, such as working on a group mural or story together. You can provide them with some old clothes that inspire them to reenact their favorite TV show or even write their own original play. Constructing with building blocks also encourages this type of play, whether they’re working on a house or a whole castle. Plan sessions for cooperative play by building on their vested interests!
Talk about it, read about it. The language we use with each other and the way we communicate is an essential building block of friendship. Begin by discussing with your child what good friends do for each other, such as being reliable, being kind, and helping out when a friend is upset. You can also read books about friendship, such as “The Frog and Toad” by Arnold Lobel or “Elephant and Piggie'' series by Mo Willems. Point out when friends use kind language with each other and compliment it.
Be receptive to emotional experiences. Every parent understands that with friendship comes an element of anger, frustration or aggression. Emotional understanding and control are essential for lifelong friendship skills. When your child is feeling overwhelmed and angry, asking questions about how they feel and actively listening to them is an effective calming strategy. The same is true for friendships. They can also use simple coping methods such as walking away for some alone time or writing down how they feel. The more they practice this, the better they’ll be able to empathize with each other.
Remember that children are always learning and they do so by watching us. We should strive to lead by example and pursue healthy friendships and good friendship habits. The beauty of friendship is in its diversity, and although it may evolve and change shape over time, the seeds you plant now will nourish children’s life-long friendship skills.