Friends are a crucial part of any young girls growth. Girls decide how to act, what to wear, and how to treat others from their peers. Children learn important socializing skills from peers as well, such as compromise, problem solving and working as a team. Girls especially weigh their choices on their friend’s opinions. As a parent, you can’t choose your daughters friends or control how other parents raise their kids but you can help her what to look for in a good friend and set an example in your own friendships.
Here are seven tips on helping your child make good friendships from experts in child development:
1. Teach Friendship Skills
Kids want to play with kids who can have fun without taking over and bossing everyone around. Seeing you reach out to friends is your child’s first lesson in how to do that. “As parents, we’re role models,” says social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD.
You can teach empathy by having your children help you do things like bringing food to a sick neighbor, or making a birthday card for a grandparent. Children’s experience at home tends to extend out into the wider world.
2. Tune in to Your Child’s Friendship Style
Involving your child and forcing your child are two different things. “Parents oftentimes imprint their socialization, or lack thereof, onto their children,” says Mason Turner, MD, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center.
You could unknowingly limit your child if you assume he relates to friends the same way you do. Let your child show you what kind of social interactions work best for her. If your child loves group situations, great. But if groups upset your child, see if she does better playing with one or two children at a time.
3. Open Your Home to Your Child’s Friends
If your child is young, invite her friends over for a play date. Be sure to have a couple of activities in mind. Activities might include a box of dress-up clothes or a plan to make cookies, depending on your child’s interests.
Even when your child is old enough to plan her own activities, encourage her to have friends over. Make your home a welcoming place for your child’s’ friends. This can make things easier as she, and her friendships, mature. It will also give you the chance to get to know your child’s friends.
4. Help Your Child Work Through Friendship Troubles
Misunderstandings are common to friendships. Your child may need help working through emotions from time to time. In a study of 267 kids between 9 and 11 years old, the way a child perceived her friends’ behavior determined whether she got angry, sad, or felt OK about the situation. Kids who felt angry were more likely to want to end the friendship.
This isn’t to say you should step in and work everything out for your child. You might, however, point out that there are two sides to every story. Or you could say, “Why don’t you wait a day or two and invite your friend back over?”
5. Let Your Child Choose Friends That Fit
Friendships can expand your child’s view of the world. That might mean, for instance, that he hangs out with a child from a family whose religion is different from your own. Unless your child is in danger, it’s a good idea to give your children room to make their own friends. “Our goal in educating our children is helping them make their own choices,” says Turner.
If you feel a friendship is putting your child at risk, however, step in. You may talk with the school to find out more about your child’s friend. You may share your concerns with your child and tell him you need to be around any time he’s together with this friend. Or you may tell him not to spend time with that kid, period. Just be aware that ultimatums are hard to enforce, so say this only if you really mean it.
6. Keep an Eye Out for Teasing or Bullying
Teasing is often a part of childhood play, but as kids go from toddlerhood to the tweens, it can become more harmful. “My tolerance for teasing goes down as kids reach the ages of 6, 7, or 8,” says Turner. “More negative self-esteem can come out of it.”
Teasing can easily cross the line into bullying. It’s normal for very young children to occasionally hit or shove each other. You can help your child understand how her words or actions might hurt another child’s feelings. Let your child know that in your family, people don’t treat others like that. Nor do they let themselves be treated badly by others.
Of course, it’s difficult to know how and when to intervene. You might want to first talk to your child and ask how he’s feeling, just be careful what words you use. “Avoid saying, ‘was anybody mean to you today?’” advises Newman. “What you’re doing is causing your child to focus on his attacks and people not liking him.”
If your child was hit or threatened, however, it’s fine to contact the other child’s parents. Be nice and try to get them on your side. Together, you may be able to help the children resolve their differences and remain friends.
7. Offer Alternatives to Popularity
Not being part of the popular crowd can feel like rejection on a grand scale. As they get older, kids become sensitive to what others think of them. Unfortunately, you can’t change your child’s popularity status. You can, however, listen to her concerns and talk about your childhood misadventures. “As a parent, this is where your own stories of rejection might be helpful,” says Newman.
It might help to point out unpopular kids who grew up to have the last laugh. For instance, Christian Bale of Batman fame and Kristen Stewart, the female lead in the Twilight movies, have reported growing up under the cloud of other kids’ insults. And Lady Gaga is taking a stand for unpopular kids by launching the Born This Way Foundation along with Harvard University.
A good group of friends can make problems like teasing and not being “in” less painful. As a parent, helping your child make friends, without trying too hard is a difficult balancing act, and well worth the effort.
Hat kinds of issues do you face with your daughter and her friends? Let Luna know and give some helpful advice!