By: Veronica Hunnicutt of Primrose Schools Phoenix Metro

All parents hope their children will form strong and lasting friendships. We all want our children to be accepted and find friends they enjoy because these relationships are one of the most valued sources of happiness. How can you prepare or help your child make friends at school? Here are a few tips:

To have good friends you need to be a good friend. This age-old saying is an important lesson to remember and teach your child. It’s not necessarily easy to learn — it takes time because it’s related to the developmental task of being able to take the perspective of another and understanding how your behavior can impact someone else. It’s a topic you naturally begin talking about very early in your child’s development when you help her learn to identify her feelings. Associate the labels for positive feelings as ones that also go with friendly behaviors. Point them out as they occur. “Sam is being a good friend. He’s showing you he likes you by letting you play with his truck. That makes you feel happy, doesn’t it?” Children need to hear over and over concrete examples of the many ways it’s possible to be a good friend so they can internalize the concept and then generalize or apply it to new situations: “Good friends listen to each other; say nice things to each other; make each other feel good; keep promises; care about each other; take turns and share; and are kind to each other,” etc.

For younger children, who’s a friend and who’s not can change from day to day. Children under 6 years old have, at best, an emerging sense of time. This makes it difficult to understand friends are not just friends in the moment, but are the people we can count on from one day to the next. The whole concept of “one day my best friend is Shelly and the next it’s Erica” is normal behavior in preschool children and doesn’t need to be corrected. It’s almost as if they are “trying on” different friends to see which ones fit. Encourage your child to have a variety of friends and to use the word “friend” to name those she likes to play with. She will grow to understand the full meaning in time.

Expect kindness. Parents and teachers are in a wonderfully powerful position to set the expectation that children will treat one another kindly. It’s never too soon to infuse the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” When a child teases another in a hurtful way, remind him that good friends don’t say mean things to each other or hurt each other’s feelings. Encourage your child to show appreciation when a friend does something thoughtful or helpful. Be sure to also acknowledge specific kind behaviors you witness in your child.

Talk it out. Encourage your child to talk with you about different friends. If your child shows signs of feeling rejected or left out, talk about it and share a time when you felt the same way. Be sensitive to friendships that may involve negative activities or teasing of other children. Discuss the relationship and behavior with your child and share your thoughts.

Encourage play dates. Suggest and make it possible for your child to invite a different friend over to play at least once each month. This will help you get to know your child’s friends from school and can encourage her to make new friends as well. Help your child plan activities to ensure a fun time!

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