One of the questions parents most often ask teachers is whether their children have friends in the classroom.
Friendship seems to come easily for some children while others find it more elusive. Children arent born knowing how to be friends; they need to learn it.
Very young children consider anyone they are playing with in the moment a friend and remembering not to grab toys or hit each other are skills they are learning. As children get older, the skills involved become more complex.
There are some ways that parents and caregivers can help children learn to relate well to others:
Help your child tune in to how other people are feeling to develop empathy. This is more natural for some children than others. Name feelings and learn what people may look or act like when they feel a certain way. Many childrens books are helpful in teaching this. Parents can talk with children about expressions on faces of people they see in magazines or around them.
Help provide opportunities for socializing, especially if your child does not have unstructured time to interact with other children. Parents can set up play dates with other children or enroll a child in some different activities or groups where they might meet others. A childs teacher or group leader may have some suggestions about other children your child seems to get along with especially well and perhaps assist with facilitating communication between the parents.
Decrease meanness. If you see your child being unkind, talk to her or him about it in private. Mention signs you see that the other child was hurt.
Help your child learn how to make amends after hurting something or someone else. For example, ask a child, What can you do to help ___ feel better?
Emphasize kindness to others and help your child learn some techniques for solving conflicts with others, including quick fixes such as flipping a coin or compromise. If your child has siblings, do not tolerate cruelty between them. Sibling relationships provide opportunities for children to become aware of the impact of their words and actions on others.
Encourage your child to use strength and cleverness to help other people. Talk about what makes someone a hero. Help teach the difference between fear and respect.
If a child is struggling with friendship issues, a parent or caregiver can listen, empathize and share confidence that the child will figure out what to do. A school-age child who continues to struggle may benefit from participating in a friendship-skills group. Contact your childs school counselor or Janet Welsh with the Penn State Friendship Skills Group at 865- 6004.
Connie Schulz is the family outreach specialist with State College Area School District. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.