Making friends a vital part of growing up
As parents, being mindful of language and endorsing a child’s positive friendship-making skills such as sharing, can go a long way in helping them build vital social skills.
While parents can’t make friends for their children, helping children develop and practice key social skills can make the friendship-building process easier, according to Goodstart’s early childhood educator Lisa Palethorpe.
“For children, making friends is a vital part of growing up and an essential part of their social and emotional development,” Ms Palethorpe.
“Social skills do not necessarily come naturally to all children and this is where parents and carers have a huge influence, with their support and encouragement being essential.”
Ms Palethorpe shared three simple strategies that parents and carers could use to help children make and keep friends.
1. During interactions with other children, verbalise children’s behaviours.
If you verbalise a child’s behaviour during interactions with other children, you can help them cement their understanding of their actions and behaviours. This supports their understanding of their feelings and builds their emotional intelligence such as empathy.
“When children are young, they often get quite excited and talk over each other,” Ms Palethorpe said.
“One way to help reduce this behaviour, for example, can be gently taking a child’s hand or placing your hand gently on their back and reminding them, ‘John is speaking and when he is finished you can tell us your story’.
“Then after the child finishes what they are saying, help the child to reconnect to what they were going to say, ‘So Ben, what were you going to tell us?”
Ms Palethorpe said by verbalising what a child was doing, or acknowledging the positive social skills of taking turns or sharing, it helped to positively endorse the positive friendship-making skills the child was undertaking.
2. Think about the language you use.
Ms Palethorpe suggested parents filter their choice of language by asking themselves, ‘is it unbiased, non-discriminative and inclusive?’
“One thing I like to remind people is that adults don’t necessarily like all other adults, and often adults will say to children, ‘We are all friends here at kindy’ or ‘We all have to be friends’,” she said.
Ms Palethorpe said this was not necessarily the case, and more appropriate language would set children to understand the importance of being friendly and kind to all people, learning acceptance and tolerance.
Instead try saying, ‘At kindy, we all have to be friendly with each other’.
“This use of language helps children build a realistic understanding that they may not always connect, like or build strong relationships with everybody in life, but they must learn how to be in the same room, be kind and pleasant with each other – crucial social skills for life.”
3. Address any non-belonging behaviour immediately.
“Children need to be taught what’s right from day one from parents and carers who have a huge influence on teaching and modelling appropriate social skills,” she said.
Sometimes children use non-belonging behaviour with statements such as, ‘You can’t come into the sandpit because you’re a girl’ or ‘Because I don’t like you’.
Ms Palethorpe said statements or words that used this non-belonging behaviour must be pipped at the post.
“It has to be stopped. Not only is it hurtful, but can also be sending strong negative messages.”
One way to counteract these statements was by calmly reminding the child that all children could play in the sandpit.
Additionally, Ms Palethorpe suggested talking to the child about why they had that belief so it could be appropriately challenged. Parents could also remind the child that we all needed to be friendly to support a fun experience for all in the sandpit.
Read Ms Palethorpe’s blog from last week that highlighted three simple everyday ways parents can help children make friends.
Ms Palethorpe is national manager of Early Learning Capability at Goodstart. The Early Learning Capability Team develops high quality, evidence-based professional learning materials to improve early childhood practice and knowledge of children’s development, learning and wellbeing across Goodstart’s network of 643 centres.