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August 08th, 2017

Summertime   - The secrets to good friendships

We’re in the middle of the summer holidays and we hope you and your children are relaxing away from the rigours and routines of school life. Some kids find school quite stressful either because of the academic life or because the social side of things is difficult for them. Some kids find it hard to make friends and feel lonely and all kids will fall out with others from time to time.

“The single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not IQ, not school grades, and not classroom behaviour, but rather the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.” Williard Hartup, Regents Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

If you’re at home maybe your children will get a chance to spend unstructured time with the neighbourhood kids. Maybe they can have some sleepovers given that you don’t have to worry so much about being fresh for school the next day. You may not get much sleep either but these are magnificent opportunities for kids to practice their social skills. When adults don’t intervene and there is less structure to their activities they need to rely on their own resources to solve problems. David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, said that Amy Chua (Tiger Mom) was coddling her children by not allowing sleepovers, playdates etc. Brooks said “She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t…. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.” These are skills that children need to learn and the summer holidays may be a great time to get some practice.

Maybe your children will spend some time at summer camps where they get a chance to bond with other kids over common interests. Maybe you’ll be spending time with cousins of different ages where they will have to practice sharing, compromise, negotiation skills and maybe dispute resolution techniques. Wonderful!

In case you don’t think your children are very good at any of those skills so vital for friendships here are 7 ways you can help your children develop these skills over the holidays.

  1. Practice perspective-taking. That means understanding someone else’s point of view. Obviously your child’s ability to empathise will vary according to his age but he can be learning from the age of 3 to think about what others feel. Read books and watch films that have emotional content in them. This allows them to practice essential skills first as an observer, much easier than as a participant! Look at the illustrations in the book or the facial expressions and body language of the characters in the film and (maybe without sound) ask your child to identify what the feelings are. How do they know? Ask them if they have ever felt that way. Get them to guess what the character might do next. Don’t pause the action for too long or too often or it will get annoying! 
  1. Develop a culture in your family of considering each other’s feelings. Talk about how various members of the family feel at different points. Naming a feeling greatly adds to your child’s emotional vocabulary and intelligence. It also demonstrates acceptance of that feeling. 
  1. Get familiar with feelings. Create together and then play games such as the Feelings card game. Paste onto cards pictures of people showing feelings (in face and body) and on a corresponding card have the word for that feeling. Then you can play ‘snap’ with them or place all the cards face down and turn up pairs with the object of pairing up the word with the picture.

 Other games will help develop other vital skills such as listening, like Simple Simon and the whispering game- listen to a message from someone with your eyes shut, then repeat it to the next person. 

  1. Model being with your own friends and being friendly with partners. Model loyalty, commitment, kindness, self-respect, constructive dispute resolution, communicating and managing feelings and needs. When dealing with upsets between yourself and your children be sure that you are not just imposing your will based on your greater age and size and position of authority lest your children learn that they need to exploit whatever power they have to get their way. Instead teach them to reason and explain. 
  1. Teach your children how to make friends. Practice making eye contact, ways to say hello, conversation starters and what they can contribute to a game. “That looks a fun game of explorers. I could be a local chief who can show the explorers the island.” 
  1. And how to deal with friendship upsets. Let’s take an example: a six year old girl had two friends at school. They had been friends from before school whereas Ella joined in year 1. The other two girls started telling Ella that she could not play with them and made other mean comments. The two six year old girls gave Ella a letter (laughing) calling her a ‘princess of poo’ and saying she is a poo and should dress as a poo... Ella was very upset. One of them said "we were happier before you came."

In circumstances like this it’s very tempting to call up the other parents and get them to tell off their children. But when parents take matters into their own hands it tells children that they can’t handle things themselves which doesn’t make them any more socially confident. And sometimes our reaction can be a bit over the top and embarrassing. And sometimes it makes it worse for our kids as the other children retaliate and then our child won’t want to confide in us again.

Sometimes adults do need to get involved but more often it works better when we empower our children to deal with matters themselves.

  • First empathise with your child. Fully appreciate how it felt to be in their shoes.
  • When they’re calmer explore through role play how things could have played out differently. Explain what the teasing child is trying to do –provoke/cause distress and that the most effective thing to do is to deprive them of that result. Practice with them ways that they could respond (words, tone, body language) that show indifference.
  • In considering why a child does mean things you could suggest ideas through questions –“Do you think these girls believe there’s a limit to the number of friends you can have? Do you agree?” 

We’ll be running our new workshop on friendships in October so do come along. In the meantime have a great summer.

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