Kids Making and Keeping Friends

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

characteristics of true friends

What do you think is the greatest predictor of happiness for your children? Could it be having a stable home, loving parents, enough food to eat, fun activities, experiencing success in school or sports? Certainly these things and many more affect your children's happiness.

But what is the best predictor of happiness? The authors of the book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, state:

"Good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all eighty-four years of the Harvard Study and boil it down to a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this:
Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period."

Kids who have warm, loving relationships with their parents have a wonderful start. Having close friends is also extremely important. While you can't control how your children and their friends interact, you can help your child develop key friendship skills.

Teaching Your Child Friendship Skills

One of the most heartbreaking things is to see your child struggling to make and keep friends. Your child might be shy and easily ignored by other kids, overly sensitive, intimidating to other children, or be the vulnerable child who is continually being picked on. What can you do to help your child develop the skills needed to make good friends?

Many of the rules of friendship are unwritten and some kids easily catch on to those rules while others struggle. In their book The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends, Elman and Kennedy-Moore define the characteristics of 10 types of children who often have problems with friendships.

They describe the typical behaviors that these kids exhibit that turn their peers off. They then list the unwritten friendship rules that this type of child is missing and how you can help your child develop those skills.

Some of the unwritten rules include things like:

  • There is no such thing as a perfect friend.
  • If you hit someone, odds are they'll hit you back harder.
  • Dwelling on bad feelings makes them worse.
  • When someone says "Stop", stop.
  • Staying out of harm's way is wise.
  • You don't have to stay around people who are unkind to you.
The book provides excellent ideas for guiding your child to learning these rules. If your child is struggling with friends, this book may hold the key to helping your child figure out how to successfully navigate friendships.

What if you'd rather have a book on friendships that your kids can read? Growing Friendships: A Kids' Guide to Making and Keeping Friends by Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Christine McLaughlin is a good choice.

Helping Your Child Practice Friendship Skills

After attending one of my presentations at his son's elementary school, a dad wrote me about his 10-year-old son's struggle to make friends. "While the kids play together, he has not made any fast friends yet. We thought that this would change when we moved to this new school but I have not seen any progress. Rather, his experience in school is not great and he is constantly targeted by the popular kids and often shunned by them when he makes an attempt to mingle."

His son was increasingly satisfied just to stay home playing his XBOX instead of going out with friends. This dad decided to try a number of ideas to help his son build his friendships:

  • Planned an outing to a swimming pool and allowed his son choose someone to invite along.
  • Invited a friend over to their house for a couple hours to help build a fort.
  • Started attending a YMCA family night where his son met new friends.
  • Encouraged his son to join the school band where he also made friends who shared his interest in music.
When your children are young, you will be involved in speaking to the other parents to arrange activities. As your children get older, it's important that they reach out initially to their friends about getting together. You can then follow-up by talking with the parents to finalize the details.

Learning Life Lessons through Friendships

The friendship challenges your kids face provide rich learning opportunities. While your children's relationships are their responsibility, you can listen and provide guidance if they want it. For example, what if someone who used to be your child's good friend suddenly no longer wants to play and your child is upset by this.

A mom described her daughter Eva's search for friends who would truly appreciate her for who she is - including her enthusiasm and sometimes loud voice. The group of girls Eva hung out with often complained she was being too noisy. Her mom asked "Do these friends work for you?" Eva realized that she was happiest when she was with friends who enjoyed her excitement and didn't try to tone her down.

Eva started working hard to make new friends who were comfortable with her just as she was. She was much happier with this new set of friends!

All these friendship struggles prepare your kids for eventually dating. By the time your kids are dating, it is important that they accept that not everyone they'd like to go out with will want to go out with them. Also, not everyone they want to continue to date will want the same thing. Dating involves plenty of learning opportunities about relationships.

Establishing and maintaining friendships is a key component in your children's emotional development. As friendships evolve and change, your children gain valuable insights that serve them throughout their lives. Remember, no friendship is perfect, but each one offers lessons and experiences that contribute to your child's growth and understanding of the world around them. Finding and keeping good friends is worth the effort!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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