I know Valentine’s Day is coming up, but why discuss celebrating that when we can talk about Make a Friend Day which is on February 11th? Prior to writing this I thought of using this holiday to write about adults and how we can maintain friendships during COVID. But then I thought about my 3 ½ year old daughter and the fact that she is not in school right, and probably will not be until the fall. My husband is often concerned about her social development and making friends.
Afterall, making friends is such an important part of development. Friendships teach skills like cooperation, problem solving and active listening. I think in today’s COVID world, many parents are concerned about their children and friendships.
The first thing I want to say about friendships and the way that I view them is that your child does not need to have 10-15 friends. Some children are very social and want many friends while others are very content having 1-2 closer friends. I am often approached by parents telling me that their child’s teachers or other professionals are concerned about a child’s social situation as they don’t have many friends. To this I always ask, “Does your child have 1 friend that they spend quality time with?” In my opinion, if they have 1 true, great friend, your child can make and sustain a friendship.
There are many necessary social emotional and developmental skills that a child should have to be successful in making friends. Most of the time, children learn and develop these skills in preschool, group sports and through everyday socialization. But what if your child isn’t going to school right now? What if group sports aren’t being offered so they aren’t participating? What can you as a parent do to help your child learn how to make and maintain friends?
Here are some basic concepts of skills needed to make friends that you can work on at home:
- Practice Paying Attention to Others
Paying attention to and listening to others are extremely important skills used to make friends. People like to feel listened to and paying attention to someone when they are speaking can really make someone feel like they are being heard.
Teaching a child to learn how to pay attention or listen can be done through modeling. When your child is speaking to you, get down on their level. Try not to be on your phone or watching TV. Instead, turn your body toward them and look at them. Ask them questions about what they are saying. Make sure they see that you are not doing anything else because you are paying attention to them and listening to what they have to say.
- Work on Building Conversation Skills
Conversations involve more than just saying words and sentences back and forth. There is a give and take involved in a conversation. Children need to learn how to take turns when talking to others, ask questions about others and listen to what others are saying.
Toddlers are egocentric beings – everything is about them and how they perceive the world. They assume that other people hear, see and feel exactly the same way they do, so they simply talk about what they want to talk about. Try asking your child open ended questions while they are engaged in their daily routines. Talk to them about what they are doing and what you are doing. Encourage them to ask you questions and to listen to you while you answer.
- Work on Non-verbal Communication
Nonverbal communication involves such things as facial expressions, gestures, body language, and tone. Its just as important to the speaker as it is to the listener. Think about how much more you can achieve with a smile, open stance and a nice tone.
Nonverbal communication can have a big impact on how others perceive what you are saying. If I am speaking to my daughter and she is twirling around in the living room, giggling, I may feel as though she really isn’t paying attention to what I am saying.
Once again, modeling can help your child learn the importance of nonverbal communication. Try ‘mirroring’ your child – use the same facial expression and tone when speaking with them. If he smiles at you, smile back at him. If she stands with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face, do the same. This visual may help your child understand how they are portraying themselves to others, and how the way they present themselves may make others feel.
Encourage your child to smile, make eye contact, stand up straight and use a nice tone of voice when speaking to others.
These basic concepts are really just a starting off point when it comes to developing the skills needed to make friends. They can all be worked according to how old your child is and whether they have experience in making friends.
I think one of the most important take-aways is that you are your child’s model. Even if they are in school or playing sports, you are their ultimate teacher. Remember that your children are watching, listening, absorbing…even when you think they aren’t paying attention. The more you practice what you preach the more likely your child is to develop positive and appropriate social skills. 😊