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The Art of Making Friends

Friendships are very important when it comes to emotional health, both for adults and children! Not having friends can have devastating effects on a child. Children who struggle with making and keeping friends often experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to get into trouble and drop out of school.

To a child, having even just one good friend can make a huge difference. Research shows it is not the quantity of friends children have that matters, it’s the quality of even one or two good relationships. You can help your child become better at making and keeping friends by teaching three basic social skills:

  • How to break the ice with kids he or she hasn’t met before.
  • How to act positive around others.
  • How to manage conflict constructively.

To teach these skills to a child, you must first figure out what the child is already doing right and then what he or she needs to learn to do better. Specific needs vary from child to child and situation to situation. Here are some tips:

  • Observe your child objectively in social settings and compare his or her interactions to those of well-liked children.
  • Isolate the skill(s) your child needs to learn or use more effectively. For example, does your child interrupt others, always try to “be the boss,” act aggressively toward others, or cry and pout when things don’t go his or her way? Or, is your child excessively shy and quiet around other children, afraid to try new activities, or reluctant to join a group?
  • Explain the steps of the skill to your child. Relate the skill to his or her world-view by attaching it to a situation your child has experienced. Demonstrate how to effectively use the skill. (For example: “You told me there’s a new student in your class that you’d like to know and be friends with. If you want to introduce yourself to him, look at him, smile, and say something like ‘Hi, my name is Jason. Would you like to play catch with me during recess?’”) 
  • Help your child practice the skill. (“Now pretend I’m the new student and introduce yourself to me. What would you say?”)
  • Give your child constructive feedback. Always start by telling your child what he or she did right and then what can be improved. Remember to teach, not criticize.
  • Be patient. Teaching social skills will takes a lot of tries and a lot of practice, and everyone learns at a different pace. And always try to practice what you preach.
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