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Friends and Friendships (page 2)

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

What to do

Although parents can't really sit a child down and teach social skills verbatim, there are many things they can do. Set high standards for behavior at home. Children who know how to behave are more likely to make friends.

For the young child

  • Children learn through imitating parents' behavior. Think through your own experiences with friendships. 
  • Practice with your child by pretending to be different people in social situations (role playing). What would you do if...
  • Children need lots of real practice. Invite other kids over; set up play groups. 
  • Make sure your child has play experiences with children of different ages and backgrounds. 
  • Don't expect that younger children will have long-term relationships. 
  • Don't force sharing. 
  • Expect some conflict. 
  • Some strategies may ward off trouble before it begins: Remember, if you'd like to play, you can ask. Remember, we can talk about how we feel instead of hitting. You can't take that away from March. When she's through you can have it. In the meantime, would you like to play with this? 
  • Put a time limit on a game. 
  • Present toys that both children can use together. 
  • When you see conflict brewing, take a break for a story, song, or juice.

For the school-aged child

  • Listen and accept your child's feelings no matter what they may be. Let your child know you're an ally.
  • Examine your own feelings. Does the present conflict trigger off some of your own early experiences?
  • Get more information about the conflict.
  • Decide whether and to what degree you should get involved.
    • If best friends are quarreling, let them work it out themselves.
    • If insults are involved, counsel the child on how to act.
    • If children gang up on your child, call him names, won't play with him, etc., spend more time talking to him about it, and talk to teachers.
    • If your child is outnumbered, being scapegoated, or repeatedly subjected to cruelty, you must step in
  • Make plans and try out several solutions together.

For the preadolescent

  • Set limits and ground rules.
  • In family meetings, discuss critical issues such as curfews, money, allowance, family tasks, clothing, values.
  • Encourage participation in new groups.
  • Put "popularity" in perspective. Some children prefer one or two close friends; others prefer larger groups.
  • Respect your child's privacy.
  • Most children of this age can handle their own friendship problems.

Warning signs

When aggressive behavior occurs with friends Despite parental efforts, it often happens that children are aggressive or disruptive with playmates or peers. At such times, a penalty system can be helpful. Here are some points to keep in mind:

Some do's

  • Help children to avoid punishment by using an early warning system. "Raisins are not for throwing." If he continues, "I'll have to take the box of raisins away. They're not for throwing." Be sure to follow through on your warning.
  • Decide on a punishment that's a logical consequence of the behavior; it should be related to the offense. If the child is disruptive, removal from the group until he can control himself is a logical action.

Some don'ts

  • The penalty shouldn't be too harsh in relation to the offense. This makes the child angry and resentful, and he isn't likely to make the connection between the crime and the punishment.
  • Avoid drawn-out lecturing, scolding or explanation, which may, in fact, represent the attention the child is seeking. If attention-seeking is indeed at the root of the trouble, ask yourself why this might be so and try to provide attention in other ways.

Withdrawn, shy or anxious behavior A certain amount of reticence is appropriate in all new social situations. Many shy and inhibited children may later develop some positive skills. If the child persists in anxious and shy behavior, let her know you know she's upset.

Some do's

  • Remind her there's no rush, that she has control over what she does or does not do.
  • Remind her of previous successes in similar situations.
  • Expose her to other children who are non-aggressive.
  • Encourage her to play with a younger child. This may relieve pressure and offer an opportunity for her to practice new ways of relating she might be hesitant to try with an older child.

Some don'ts

  • Push her to interact before she's ready.
  • Compare her negatively to a more outgoing child.
  • Laugh at or belittle her fears.
  • Label her as shy; this sets up expectations for her behavior and the label may stick.

When these strategies don't work; when overly aggressive or overly shy behaviors interfere with the child's socialization, it's time to consult a mental health professional.

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