That’s what friends are for

By Dr Paula Barrett

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the school wall – to see how your child copes in the rough and tumble of the playground?

Are they popular? Do they get bullied? Do they “play nice” with the other kids?

It’s natural for parents to want their children to socialise well and to be anxious if they think their child is struggling. But even though you can’t be there to guide your kids through the social minefield of the lunch break, you can still prepare them to form strong, positive relationships with others.

A good way to start is by praising your child for being a good friend to someone. Be specific. For example, say: “I really liked the way you asked Jessica to join you in the playground when you noticed she had nobody to play with. You are a good friend.”

Encourage your child to discuss ways they think they could be a good friend and share stories about your own friendships throughout your childhood and adult life. Explain why you consider someone a good friend. When you were little, they may have been a good listener or shared their toys. As an adult, there may a workmate who helps you use the computer or smiles when they we you. Also, give examples of things that create a bond with your friends. Do you share your recipes or make someone laugh?

When you hear your child talk about different situations from school, initiate discussions that explore how a good friend would react. For example, if your son tells you that he saw Jeremy fall over in the playground, ask how he reacted. Did he help Jeremy up? Or did he laugh?

It’s really important to help your child develop empathy and be more aware of how others are feeling. A child needs to be equipped to read the social cues that will make them sensitive to other people’s needs. Try to encourage your child to develop their empathy by suggesting courses of action. For example: “Your brother looks like he is feeling stressed about his exam tomorrow. Perhaps you could offer to get him a nice, cold drink”.

With support and encouragement, your child can learn how to make — and more importantly keep good friends.

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