Working with School-Age Children: Promoting Friendship
The Importance of Friendship
Friends are vital to school-age children's healthy development. Research has found that children who lack friends can suffer from emotional and mental difficulties later in life. Friendships provide children with more than just fun playmates. Friendships help children develop emotionally and morally. In interacting with friends, children learn a lot of social skills, such as how to communicate, cooperate, and solve problems. They practice controlling their emotions and responding to the emotions of others. They develop the ability to think through and negotiate different situations that arise in their relationships. Having friends even affects children's school performance. Children tend to have better attitudes about school and learning when they have friends there. In short, children benefit greatly by having friends.
What Adults Can Do To Promote Children's Friendship
The activities children participate in outside of school, such as afterschool programs, 4-H, scouts, and sport team, provide good opportunities for making friends, especially since they bring children together by common interests. Whether you work in an afterschool program, volunteer with 4-H or the scouts, or are involved in another youth program, you can play an important role in children's social and emotional development by being mindful of the importance of friendship. You can promote friendships by helping children learn the social skills for making and keeping friends. You can also create a safe, enriching environment in which friendships can flourish.
Fundamentally, adults lay the foundation for children to make friends by building positive, supportive relationships with them. Children begin to develop the basic trust and self-confidence necessary to go out and meet others as infants, through a warm relationship with their parents. As children grow older, they continue to rely on their parents' support, but they also benefit from the support of other trusted adults. Try to develop a positive relationship with each child you work with. Greet each child warmly and let him know you are glad to see him. Ask the child about his day or what is going on in his life. By developing a positive relationship with a child, you are sending him the message that he is a worthwhile person, someone others like to be around.
Adults also help children make friends by being a good role model. Children learn a lot of social skills from how adults interact with them and other people. To help the children you work with learn how to be people others like to be around, show them with your own actions. Talk to the children kindly and respectfully. Tell good-natured stories and jokes. Include everyone in conversations and activities. Be a good sport whether you win or lose.
You can do a great deal to prepare a child to make friends by maintaining a warm relationship with her and being a good role model. Below are some additional ways you can promote friendship in your program, group, or club.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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