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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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May 23rd, 2017

The Antidote to Meanness

A parent in our Thursday morning class in Barnes raised this issue recently and we wondered what issues others were experiencing around friendships. We know parents want to know about solutions to friendship issues as our Friendship workshop keeps selling out!

Our client had said that her daughter Holly* (aged 7) had a friend, Emma*, over to play and Emma told their neighbour’s little girl Laila* that Holly didn’t like her. Our mum said this wasn’t true but Holly had said that Laila sometimes made quite a lot of noise in the flat above them which could be annoying.  Laila was upset and so were her parents. Initially the mum wanted Holly to apologise but she didn’t want to force an insincere apology and Holly thought that was unfair as she hadn’t done anything wrong. The mum said she thought about it from her 7 year old’s perspective and realised that it was a big ask for her to understand the unintended impact of her words. She acknowledged that Holly felt betrayed by her friend Emma’s breach of confidence and she decided to tell her friend (gently) about the effect of her words. Holly could see that sometimes words have unintended hurtful consequences. Her mum wisely said that saying sorry in this case was not an admission of wrongdoing but an acknowledgment of hurt caused. Apparently they compromised with Holly spending the afternoon happily with Laila keeping her entertained. Our mum said “Parents soothed, children happy, something learnt. Result!”

This was quite a complicated scenario in a little girl’s life but it’s not all unusual for a girl to tell another girl that someone else doesn’t like her. It’s one of the forms of verbal meanness that girls go in for (and girls are pretty adept with words). Boys can be mean too but at this age they are generally more physical.

At the age of 7 girls are often playing in friendship clusters or they may be beginning to make best friends. These friendships are often quite transitory as girls try on different kinds of friends and this kind of experience, while painful, teaches them a lot about what to look for in a friend. If your daughter has had this kind of experience it’s a great opportunity to talk to her about what it means to be a good friend. We usually recommend that parents do an exercise with their girls like creating an advertisement which lists all the attributes wanted in the prospective friend. It’s a fun thing to do but it also gets your child thinking about what they expect of their friends but also what they know they should be doing as a good friend themselves. If you write down a list of good friend qualities you can keep the list somewhere prominent to remind you to notice and comment any time you see your own daughter displaying any of them.

Chief amongst the qualities of a good friend is kindness. Kindness is not something which is simply innate in children –it is a teachable skill. We can and should teach our children to be kind. This is essential in a world where bullying is so prevalent. Kindness is the antidote to bullying. Empathy is when children know and care about what another person is feeling and when you feel someone else’s pain kindness follows.

We can teach our children empathy in these ways;

  • As usual we start with modelling. What are we doing to demonstrate kindness and empathy? Do they see us opening doors for others, helping someone with heavy packages, smiling at or talking to someone who might be a bit lonely, thinking about what needs others might have that we can help with? “Auntie Jo and Uncle Matt are moving house on the weekend. Let’s see if we can give them a hand.” Be explicit about what you’re doing. “You may have noticed me chatting with that lady on the bus wearing a headscarf. She’s a Muslim woman and I think it’s important to make Muslim people feel welcome in our community at the moment when there’s a lot of fear and hatred being directed at people of their faith.”
  • Parents who use emotion coaching are giving their children an empathy head start. When we acknowledge feelings we help our kids to recognise and name their own feelings and the feelings of others. This is the first step toward empathy. “Harry’s feeling really out of sorts tonight. I think he didn’t have a good day at school today. What can we do to make him feel happier?” Encourage your children to see things from the other’s point of view. They won’t be able to do this until any feelings of their own have been heard.
  • Descriptively praise any small acts of kindness and point out the positive consequences of your child’s acts of kindness, including the benefit to the child. “When you asked Grandma about her weekend I could tell she felt cared for. Did you see the way she smiled? I bet that made you feel good.”
  • State your expectations and your values. “In our family we treat each other with kindness. I’m guessing you were feeling really cross when Mariam stepped on your dinosaur and it’s unkind to call someone a ‘retard’. That hurt her feelings. When you feel calmer I will help you think of a way to make amends.”

It’s possible Emma didn’t mean to be unkind to Holly. She may have wanted Holly to be her friend exclusively and to keep Laila out of the picture. She may not have been thinking about the consequences for Laila as she was focused on Holly. When we think about the reasons for an apparently unkind behaviour, rather than just punishing it, we can be more effective in changing behaviour. Maybe Emma needs to feel more confident in her ability to make and maintain friendships. She may need help understanding that having a third friend in a group doesn’t devalue the friendship between two. Then she wouldn’t need to undermine others. Emma can be taught good friendship skills.

 

*Names have been changed

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May 11th, 2016

Friendships

Friendships can be lovely - affirming, supportive and nurturing; they can bring a child out of themselves and challenge them to try things they wouldn’t on their own; friendship groups can give a sense of belonging; friends can provide emotional support; good friendships provide an opportunity for a child to air their views and work out what they believe in. Being with friends teaches trust and intimacy; negotiating with peers teaches communication skills; learning how to break up and make up is also useful. Friends can help kids through tough times.

Friendships can also be troublesome if they don’t go well. Children fall out with each other, some kids find it hard to make friends and some are bullied.

Have your children ever experienced any of the following issues?

  • Being excluded
  • Teasing/bullying, unkindness, meanness, name calling, put downs – children say things like ‘you can’t be my friend’, ‘you’re not in our club’. There can be quite personal slants –they call each other weird, fat, stupid, beanpole, shorty, gay, and criticise or make fun of their clothes, hair, the fact that they wear glasses, have freckles, a funny nose etc
  • Betrayal of confidences
  • Being the subject of rumours
  • Peer pressure, inappropriate friends/behaviour
  • Children being too bossy or aggressive, or not assertive enough
  • Not having friends. Sometimes kids have developed behaviours which aren’t conducive to forming friendships – they are insensitive to others, unable to read cues, coming too close, shouting too loud, grabbing, not knowing when to stop talking, moaning or complaining, being too needy/pleading, having a strop when things don’t go their way.

You can foster good friendships by:

  • Providing opportunities for children to be with other kids their age –neighbours, relatives, friends from activity groups. School will be the main meeting ground but if things go wrong in your child’s school peer group its good if they have friendship groups outside school too.

“Having a good friend will lessen the harmful effects of bullying. If you are excluded by the general peer group but have a friend who is saying, ‘you are not so bad as they say you are’, this can be enough to satisfy your need to belong. You will not be damaged if somebody special is valuing you, even if you are not valued by everyone.” Dr Michael Boulton, child psychologist, Keele University.

  • Modelling being with your own friends and being friendly with your partner. Model loyalty, empathy, taking into account the other’s perspective, constructive dispute resolution and managing your feelings.
  • Not criticisingunsuitable friends’ -this may make them more appealing. You can probably limit your young child’s association with other children but as they get older this is harder to do. Your children are likely to adopt your values and be influenced by you if they get plenty of positive input from you. Point out what you don’t like about the friend’s behaviour rather than saying you don’t like them.
  • Helping children develop social skills. We need to remember that each child has their own temperament and this will influence how they approach social events, and other people. For example: a child who is reactive will hang back in any new situation and be unwilling to throw herself in until she is ready. Rather than dropping her into different environments in the hope that she will get used to it, we need to help her prepare for such situations. Is your child an introvert? She may prefer to be by herself or with just one friend rather than a crowd or she may need downtime after social events.

Use Descriptive Praise on an on-going basis to help your child value themselves and to highlight specific qualities that will help in friendships such as loyalty, good listening and sharing.

Play games with your children to encourage skills such as listening, turn-taking, being a good sport, using self-control, handling their feelings, considering other people’s feelings, following rules and instructions, looking for solutions and developing strategies for dealing with problems.
Role play
how to join a group of children, different ways of saying hello and asking to join in.  Hi my name’s…what’s yours? I like your ‘Inside Out’ notebook. Do you like Joy?  Practice also what to say if the child says “No, you can’t play”.

You can also use role plays to help your child work out how to stand up for herself without hurting anyone else. Practice saying something like “I don’t like it when you take my things. Stop that!”  “I want to play with you but I don’t like this chasing game –it hurts when you get slapped.”

You can teach kids to read social cues from words and body language and how to gauge their impact on others and adjust accordingly, including the amount of space a person needs. Get your child to read your face and say what you’re feeling. Ask what you’re likely to do next if you’re feeling that way. Have fun with it!

Sharing demands a level of social understanding which comes with maturity. It means caring about what the other child wants as well as what he wants. Don’t expect too much of this from younger children. Show children how to take turns by playing games and by example. “I’m going to let you have some of my ice-cream because you dropped yours and I can see you’re sad.” Sharing toys provides the first experience of negotiation. First, recognise ownership so the children feel the situation is properly understood. For example: “I know it’s your car and it’s for you to decide. Hannah’s really sad. If you’d like to play with her toys sometimes maybe you could let her play with yours?”  Then let them sort it out as much as possible. “Sam’s really upset. Can you think of anything else he might like to play with to cheer him up?” Descriptively praise sharing and turn-taking whenever it occurs.

Good friendships aren’t just a question of luck –show your children how to nurture them.

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October 30th, 2015

7 Skills for Raising a Good friend

“I have NO friends” are words that no parent ever wants to hear from their child.  A few years ago I remember having to pop into my child’s school during playtime.  I saw my daughter out in the playground, alone, while the other girls were all running around after one another.  I jumped to the most dire conclusion … that she really didn’t have anyone to play with.  I felt a combination of fear and sadness along with my own memories of being a young child, not being quite sure where I fit in.  Friendships are so important - to girls and boys - and as parents, we have a tremendous influence on the kind of friend our child is, as well as the kind of friends our children choose.  How can we raise children who are kind, considerate friends?  Here are 7 key skills with which parents can help their children to be a good friend, and deal positively with friendship issues that might arise. 

7 skills needed for friendships: 

  1. Enjoy the company of others and know how to connect and communicate with others.

Spending positive time with our own friends, without malicious gossiping or complaining about others, is wonderful modelling.

It’s also important to be considerate of your child’s temperament so they can connect and communicate positively.  My daughter is a bit of an introvert and while she can spend hours playing outside with the neighbours, she eventually needs to come inside and go up to her room for ten minutes of quiet time.  She loves to be with her friends but needs to re-energise by being alone.  

  1. Learn to take turns and share

We start to teach our children to take turns and share from toddlerhood.  Knowing a playdate for her three boys (each bringing a friend over) could have potential blowups and meltdowns, one mum sat down with her sons and together they decided on a rota for sharing the Wii and for making sure that the plans for football were equitable.  They set up teams ahead of time, and made sure to have a blend of strong and weaker players on each team. 

  1. Be able to read emotions

Children today are busy and often focused on their own needs.  Sometimes, though, their friends will be having a rough day.  We want to be raising children who can check in with their friends and lend a kind ear and help out if necessary.  When you’re out and about, pay attention to other people.  Say things like, ‘That lady looks so happy’ or ‘He looks like he’s having a rough day’. … which segues perfectly into … 

  1. Be able to empathise

When our children can take the time to imagine how they would feel in their friend’s shoes, they are empathising.  They are not trying to fix their friend’s problems, or feel sorry for them.  They are simply providing a safe ear that doesn’t invalidate what their friend has to say.  “I can’t believe she said that to you.  That must have really hurt your feelings.” 

  1. Regulate aggression

With girls, aggression tends to be in the form of words and exclusion; with boys, it can be more physical.  We can teach our children that it is perfectly acceptable to have big feelings like anger, hurt or jealousy, but that they need to have safe and acceptable outlets for dealing with these feelings.  By empathising with them and teaching them feeling-releasing strategies, they learn to use words or acceptable outlets for aggression.  Another useful strategy is teach our children to withdraw from potentially fractious situations.  

  1. Apologise when you are wrong and have hurt a friends feelings

We have all done or said something that has not landed well with another person and has caused a rift in a friendship. Making mistakes is a big part of life and learning and parents can teach children so much by the way we handle our own mistakes.  Do we complain and blame, or do we get on the phone, take responsibility for what we did, and apologise?  And when our kids make mistakes do we get angry and punish them, or do we support them in fixing their mistakes and making amends? 

  1. Learn when to trust!

As adults, we know that most people are genuine and can be trusted.  We also know that there are some people who can be deceptive for different reasons.  We need to be honest with our children, and teach them that they can walk away when they feel that the trust is no longer there, or the friendship is no longer contributing to their wellbeing. 

By instilling these seven skills in our children, we will support them in being confident, kind, respectful friends who will be able to stand up for, and be a strong voice, when their own friendships call for it.

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