A new school year can bring about excitement and apprehension for school-aged children. Often children are excited to see old friends and meet their new teachers, but anxiety can mount as they worry over social dynamics. Making friends and building healthy relationships with peers can be a tremendous source of stress for children. As parents our biggest nightmare is helping our precious kiddos navigate the sometimes painful process of growing up. No parent wants their kid to be bullied and much less to find out their child is the bully. Consider the following tips to alleviate some of the frustrations with playground drama.
First, do not overreact! As a parent listening to the injustices of the lunch room can incite great emotion. Take a deep breath, pause, and then respond. Parents overreacting can escalate a situation unnecessarily. Making friends is a life-long process and a skill that is developed and strengthened over time.
Friendship Skill #1: Learn Empathy.
Helping your child to understand another person’s perspective enables them to understand why others may not always be nice and not to take it personally. This empowers your child to be kind to others but also have a forgiving patience for kids who may not always be nice. Empathy will enable your child to navigate teasing. Your child will be able to dismiss it as mere teasing which will minimize the impact of bully attempts. When you can guide your child through being able to see a situation from the perspective of another person, you have just given your child the golden ticket to problem solving for a lifetime.
Friendship Skill #2: Party At Our House.
Invite your child’s friends over. If your child is younger, arrange playdates at your home, a nearby park, or community center. Provide structure for their play time. The structure will provide the framework in which positive social behaviors can be reinforced. As the play group matures a pattern for healthy interactions has been established. This structure will also allow for your shy kiddo to succeed in the structured environment. For the more dominant child, it allows for them to abide by the rules of a game rather than an adult figure having to police the behaviors. A win-win for everyone involved.
Friendship Skill #3: Talk It Out.
Friendship building can be tricky for young hearts and minds. Discuss with your child why they may be feeling a certain way. Don’t solve the situation for them, but begin to model the positive thinking behavior of viewing the situation from their friend’s point of view. If your child is angry give them a chance to verbalize the frustration, but also encourage them to give the friendship another try the next day. Be careful of the words you use when discussing a situation with your child. Have them clarify what the situation or behavior means to them rather than you offering an explanation. Praise your child when you see these positive behaviors. If your child is struggling with how to interact you can role play conversations with them. Remember, making friends is a skill. Just like reading or writing, it is something that is taught and practiced.
Friendship Skill #4: Friend Match.
Your child will most likely prefer a certain type of person to be social with, but direct your child to hang out with different types of friends too. Don’t force them to be around children that may pose a risk, but encourage your child to meet new people. This is easy in joining various activities or clubs, so your child has a chance to encounter different people from all walks of life. Experiencing a variety of people at a young age instills an accepting view of others and helps to prevent a fearful or even rigid reaction to unfamiliar situations or people later in life.
If you have other friendship building skill suggestions please share! It still holds true that it takes a community to raise happy, healthy children.