Friendships: Why They Matter and How to Help Them Go Better

Some kids have a hard time making and keeping friends. You can make a difference

Posted Jan 17, 2020

Predi/Flickr
Source: Predi/Flickr

A strong network of social support is your child’s best resiliency factor, with benefits at school, at home, and in their personal life, both now and going forward. According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child, friendships bring many advantages. These findings and others indicate that friendship is important for these reasons, and more:

  1. Self-knowledge. It’s through friendship that your child discovers their interests, personality characteristics, and abilities.
  2. Confidence. No matter how much you remark on your child’s strengths, when a friend shows them they’re good at running or painting or singing, they know it’s true.
  3. Coping, resilience, and stress management. Friendship can tide your child over through a bad patch, whether it’s momentary, like a failed test, or momentous, like the loss of a family member.
  4. Social skills mastery. Friendships stimulate learning about sharing, respect, kindness, altruism, and empathy.
  5. Growth and competence. Having a friend with similar interests stimulates your child’s growth and development in the areas of shared interest.
  6. Motivation. Having friends motivates your child to accomplish and succeed in a number of different areas.
  7. Ethics and values. Kids learn about ethical behavior and about their values in their interactions with others.
  8. Conflict resolution. It’s through friendship that your child learns how to address and resolve disagreements.
  9. School adjustment and achievement. Children who experience greater peer acceptance enjoy school more, and do better academically.
  10. Health and well-being. When your child has friends, they want to play with them, and be active together. They feel better, and are less likely to be have problems with their physical and mental health as they get older.

Supporting Your Child’s Friendships  

Childhood friendships are tumultuous and deeply-felt. Your child needs to learn to manage their friendships on their own, but there are some ways you can make a difference.

  1. Listen. Friendships matter greatly to your child’s happiness, health, and success, so it’s important to take it seriously when your child talks about problems with a friend. Turn off your phone and stop everything else you’re doing. Give your child your full attention so you can hear how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. Avoid being judgemental; just communicate that you’re listening and that you know how much it hurts. If your child asks for advice, you can help them most by asking questions that get them to formulate a reasonable solution.
  2. Model how to show respect and value feelings. Show warmth, respect, and empathy towards your child and others. Speak about others with kindness and respect, even when you think your child isn’t listening.
  3. Point out the feelings of others. “I think Ethan is sad because he lost his thermos.” “Sergio looked happy when he saw you.” Help your child see the common humanity we all share, regardless of differences. Do this with fictional characters, as well as with people in your life.
  4. Create a friendly atmosphere in your home. Model friendly greetings and concern for each other member of the family. That means no ridicule, mockery, or disparagement.
  5. At the end of each day, ask your child about acts of kindness. In addition to asking about other achievements and experiences, include a question about acts of kindness they might have observed or participated in.
  6. Help your child find others with similar interests. As with adults, children find it easiest to make friends when they have shared interests and hobbies. Look for a social activity your child will enjoy and do well at. It might be a choir, a sports team, a dance class, or robotics, anything where your child can develop the confidence that comes from competence, and interact with others who share their interest in that activity.
  7. Expand your circle of concern. Reach out to diverse others, across culture, race, sex, religion, and political affiliation. Whenever possible, include your child in these activities. Talk with compassion about events in the news, and ways you might be able to help. Expanding your child’s circle of relationships is linked with their current and eventual happiness, as well as academic and career success.
  8. Get help. If your child has persistent friendship problems, they might need help with social skills. Are they good at taking others’ feelings into account? At listening? Would you or your child benefit from counselling that focuses on relationship-building? With this as with other problems you might encounter with your child, step back and look at your own behavior, your own life. Most of the problems I’ve encountered with children can be seen reflected in their parents’ lives. When parents address their own issues, children benefit.

Resources

"Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships," by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child

"How Children Make Friends" by Eileen Kennedy-Moore