For children, no matter what age they’re at currently, having friendships is an essential part of growing up. Strong relationships teach children about empathy, kindness, sharing, and so much more. Having friends extends beyond these foundational skills as well—children with good friends enjoy higher self-esteem, deal with loneliness far less often, and generally see the world as a brighter, happier place.
So how do you support your child as they build, develop, and maintain these friendships over the years? What lessons can you pass on as an adult to show your child the basis of friendly relationships? Like almost all aspects of raising a happy, well-adjusted child, this starts in the home. In this article, we’ll go over some of the best ways to help your child nurture their friendships.
1. Be a Good Friend to your Child
First and foremost, it’s vital to remember that your child will learn most of their initial relationship skills from their relationship with you! Being a good friend to your child starts from the very beginning, such as responding with sensitivity and empathy to your child as a baby, whether they communicate by speaking or simply with body language.
As time goes on, your relationship will become deeper as your child learns more and more. When it comes time to make rules and boundaries, ensure these are discussions with your children rather than unilateral decisions with no explanation. When appropriate, include your child in smaller decisions (like where to go for dinner) as a way to show that they have a voice. These little displays of friendship can go a long way in helping children and youth make their own friends later on.
2. Demonstrate Good Social Skills with Your Own Friends
Let your children see you in social settings. When your child sees you engaging in healthy friendships with other adults, they’ll naturally strive to emulate. Let them watch you listening, responding with empathy and kindness, and watch as they pick up these habits and display them in kind. If you have good social skills, you’ll likely also find it easier to connect with the parents of your child’s friends, strengthening their relationship even more.
3. Get Your Child Acquainted with Trusted People
Getting your child used to interacting with various people is a great way to help them build confidence and self-esteem in their own relationships. Whenever possible, strive to introduce your child and encourage them to have conversations with trusted adults and children.
Be sure that people who see your child often, such as relatives, understand and respect your child’s personal preferences. While some children prefer high-energy roughhousing while playing, others may prefer being in more laid-back, relaxed social situations. Ensuring others respect these boundaries will encourage your child to be more open in social situations.
4. Teach (and Demonstrate) Good Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is perhaps the defining skill that helps children maintain their relationships. Help them develop this social foundation by demonstrating good conflict resolution at all times, whether it’s between you and your child or you and other people.
Ideally, children should respond to conflict with kindness, empathy, and a genuine willingness to work it out. Showcase these values, resisting the urge to always be correct. Show your child that it’s not only okay, but also necessary to admit you were wrong and say sorry from time to time.
Every parent has their own ideas on appropriate discipline, but remember that a child who is disciplined through physical or verbal aggression will naturally react the same way to conflict and disappointment in their own lives—a tactic which only serves to harm the people involved. Set a better example for your children and demonstrate how to solve conflict with calm conversation.
5. Get Children into Social Settings
Social, group activities are a great way to foster your child’s social skills, encourage them to meet new people, and develop relationships through common interests. There’s no limits except your child’s interests and willingness to try new things—many parents turn to team sports, but other examples include after-school clubs, gaming, extracurricular athletics, music or language classes, and organized outdoor activities, just to name a few.
Don’t force your child to do an activity that they don’t enjoy for long. If they’re not connecting with friends and not getting much out of the activity, there’s likely something else out there that would be a better fit for their interests.
6. Make Space for Social Time for Your Child
Though encouraging your child to do things is important, it’s equally vital that you don’t overschedule your child with extracurriculars and other activities. Doing so is not recommended because, at a certain point, your child will never have any time to relax (whether with friends, family, or alone), leading them to regress socially and feel disinterested in pursuing relationships.
This, like so much of parenting, stems from asking your child the right questions and truly listening to their answers. Your child will likely surprise you in their communication if you foster an environment where they know their voice will be heard.
7. Work with a Trusted Therapist
Last but not least, therapy for children and youth can be an invaluable way to teach, reinforce, and develop vital social skills outside of home. If you find that your child has a hard time making friends, keeping connected with others, or dealing with conflicts in a healthy, positive way, therapy could be a huge help.
At Hopewoods, we have been providing high-quality care to children, youth, and teenagers in Toronto’s Asian and Chinese communities for over a decade. We help teach children about the importance of ‘soft skills’ like empathy, sharing, kindness, communication, conflict resolution, and more, ensuring they have all the tools they need to foster meaningful, long-lasting friendships.
If you have more questions about how best to support your child in their social journey, or if you’re curious enough to want to book an initial consultation, reach out to our staff today.