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Can We Teach our Children How to make Friends

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Beyond bribing our children’s peers with candy or passes to the skate rink in 
an attempt to get other children to play with ours, can we really help our 
children make friends? Yes, by providing opportunities and gentle coaching — 
not heavy handed intervention. Pushing our children in any area, especially to 
be more gregarious, isn’t likely to work. Here are some ideas that may help:
Give the child lots of opportunities to play with peers.
Arrange play dates for preschool and school age children. If your preschooler 
is not in child care, enroll him or her in a preschool or a playgroup that meets 
regularly. Go to the park or other places where your child will have a chance to 
meet peers under your supervision. There is no substitute for the experience 
children gain from interacting with peers. Children who have had many opportunities 
to play with peers from an early age are clearly at an advantage when they enter 
formal group settings such as child care or elementary school. 
Play teaches children about partnership, teamwork, and fair play. It is through 
play that a child's primitive understanding about "rules" is reinforced because 
most games and social situations have rules. While our home environments may be 
more forgiving and tolerant about bending the game rules, it is quickly apparent 
to children that their peers aren’t always as tolerant and forgiving. 
Michele Borba, EdD, summarizes the importance of social skills by saying; "Friends 
play an enormous part in the development of children's self-esteem. If we want our 
children to become their personal best, it's essential to improve their ability to 
get along well with others."
Play with your child like a peer.
Get on the floor and build with blocks or act out imaginary roles. For school-age 
children, play an outdoor activity like basketball or soccer or grab a board game 
for fun inside. You will learn a lot about how your child plays when you play with 
him. Observational studies indicate that the parents of the most socially competent 
children laugh and smile often, avoid criticizing their child during play, are 
responsive to the child's ideas, and aren't too directive.
Talk to your child about their friends.
Ask your child about what happened in preschool or school. “Whom did you play with 
today?” “Why do you like playing with that friend?” Have your child tell you about 
interactions that upset him. “How did you feel when he took your shovel at the 
park?” “Why do you think he did that?” “What could you do next time to play 
together?” Or if it was your child who took the shovel, ask the same questions, but 
talk about other ways to express his feelings and wants.
Make your conversations opportunities to problem-solve together.
Remember, these are conversations and not lectures. It makes sense that we want 
our children to learn from what we say, but sometimes we need to just listen to how 
they feel and then develop coping strategies together.
Try not to interfere in your child’s play situations.
Unless your child or the other children are in danger of getting hurt or the 
situation has escalated beyond their ability to work out the issues, let your child 
work out her own social challenges. Children can benefit from learning to compromise
on their own in a safe, supervised setting.
Social Competence
Despite our best efforts to teach them, our children may still need help taking 
turns or accepting the ideas of others. As eager as we may be for them to succeed, 
here are some things to avoid when coaching our children about social situations. 
Richard Lavoie, author of Teacher's Guide: Last One Picked ... First One Picked On, 
suggests that parents DON'T:
* Discourage their child from establishing relationships with children who are a 
year or two younger. Although the children are different ages, they may be at a 
similar developmental level. By befriending younger children, your child may enjoy 
a degree of status and acceptance that he does not experience among his peers.
* Force their child to participate in large groups if he is not willing or able.
* Put their child in highly charged competitive situations to necessitate peer 
interaction. Competitive sports or other activities are often a source of great 
anxiety and failure for children trying to make friends. Parents should focus 
on participation, enjoyment, contribution, and satisfaction in competitive 
* Judge or punish their child when he tells them about social confrontations or 
difficulties that he has experienced. Parents should thank him for sharing the 
experience and then discuss optional strategies that he could use.
Children Who Need More Help
Some of us are born needing more help in forming friendships. Shyness, empathy, 
and the ability to read social cues are traits heavily influenced by our genes, 
and some children need help. Some children are very shy and need more arranged 
opportunities and gentle encouragement. Some children have less empathy and have 
trouble understanding the feeling or behavior of others. They may not recognize 
social cues or have insight into their own behavior that turns off other children 
and need our help.

Final Note
We want everything to go well for our children and we can do much to ensure it. 
But as they get older and enter the social world, there is only so much we can do: 
provide them with low pressure social opportunities, role model good friendship 
behavior, share feelings, and try to keep a good perspective on a very long and 
winding human road.
Helping our children to be good friends requires good role modeling. Children 
watch and listen closely to the adult behavior around them.
Marcia Arpin continues to write and illustrate several articles for newsletters,
newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites each month. Do you need Marcia's
great ideas to enhance you publication? Email her today: allthedaze@gmail.com
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This week's poll
Do you “drop everything” if a friend calls and invites you over for a play-date?

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