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6 Tips to Help Your Kids Navigate Early Friendships

Skinned knees and scraped elbows aren’t the only hurts that can happen on the playground. Sometimes early friendships can cause some bumps and bruises too, and watching your children suffer through these early friendship missteps makes our heart’s ache. Friendship challenges are a necessary part of growing up but parents can help prepare their kids to navigate those inevitable tricky patches with grace and resilience, opening the door to healthy connections and trusting friendships.

Making friends is one of the most important developmental milestones for kids under the age of seven as learning how to relate to others helps lay the foundation for emotional growth and allows children to practice skills related to social, cognition, and communication, just to name a few of the big ones! Having a few good friends by their side helps kids learn how to empathize, be sensitive to other viewpoints and perspectives, have conversations, and learn to listen. Friends contribute to a child’s sense of belonging and help kids work through stress. Child psychologists share that when kids know they have consistent people on their side, it helps them adapt to changing situations in their environments. And while the road to good friends might at times be rocky, with the right support children can learn relationship skills to cultivate deep, meaningful connections with others.

We’ve pulled together a few tips from the ‘friend ship’ to ensure your children have smooth sailing as they learn to “make new friends and keep the old.” Here are 6 surefire ways to help teach your child about handling friendships through the early years.

1. Model How to Be a Good Friend

The best way to show your children how to be a good friend is by being a good friend yourself. Modeling healthy friendships is a first step for kids in witnessing how to maintain relationships. Your kids get all kinds of cues from you about how to be a friend so when you bring a sick friend some soup or invite your pals over to share stories by a bonfire, your kids will learn from these examples. If you've had the good fortune of maintaining good friends since you were young, share those early friendship stories. 

2. Encourage Your Child's Friendships

As children grow up, friends move and go to different schools and your families time together changes. If your children still feel strong connections to those preschool friends, for example, help them to maintain connection by inviting them to play or staying in touch with the families to meet up at playgrounds or parks. Having a wide circle of friends takes some organization but it gives children the feeling that their many worlds are still connected, allowing for a feeling of comfort

3. Respect Your Child's Social Personality

Not every child is a social butterfly. Some kids easily make friends wherever they go and others struggle to find connections, preferring to come home and play with their pet hamsters. It's important not to compare your child's friendship abilities with other children's or even with their siblings. Every child approaches these relationships a little differently and there is no one size fits all. What's important is to respect your child's unique personality and specific needs.

4. Practice and Process Through Play

Pretend play is the perfect platform for processing friendships and practicing ways to be a friend. Whether your child chooses to play with dolls, Little Friends, small animals, or puppets, follow your child’s lead. Often, the struggles they are having with new friends either on the playground or in the classroom will emerge. As you observe their play scenario, you can then help guide them to problem-solve through role playing together. For example, what your child can do when a friend won’t play, or how to navigate hurt feelings, and how to treat friends kindly.

5. Read All About It

Just as play helps children to act out scenarios they are navigating, reading books to your children about friendship is a great way to springboard discussions and help them learn more about how other children also go through friendship troubles. There are so many classic books about friendship, just ask your librarian to point out a few. You can refer to these characters as your children goes through similar situations. Remember when Frog and Toad had that fight? Or when Francis didn't want to share? Great characters create great role models. 

6. Listen

Perhaps the most important step to helping your child navigate the world of early friendships, is to provide a listening ear. Try not to inject your opinion about what they should do or how to fix the problem, let your children talk and really listen. That is one of the hardest things to do as a parent but it is a skill that you will keep pulling out all through the varying challenges your children face. First listen, then pause, then see if they want you to help them figure it out. If they say yes, then start to figure out some ways forward. But sometimes just getting something off their chest with someone who loves them know matter what is the best fix of all. 

We hope your children make all kinds of lasting friends and learn some great lessons along the way!


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