These seven pieces of advice can help you help your kids make friendships.
When I was growing up, we never heard the term “play date.” Our play time consisted of adventures around the neighborhood, exploring and pretending until it got dark or we were called home for dinner, whichever came first. We were best friends with the kids next door or just down the street. We rode bikes everywhere, including the drugstore (for candy) and the pizza place (where we got a slice and a soda for $1.25).
But times have changed. I would never allow my children to ride their bikes outside a quarter-mile radius of our house, and most of their friends live in other neighborhoods at least a few miles away.
Some children (like the adorable trio of second-graders in our cul-de-sac) luck out and find vintage-style friendships close to home. But most of our children are dealing with a whole different level of social logistics these days, requiring mom and dad’s involvement.
While we need to allow our children’s relationships to develop organically, there are a few ways to help seed, water and cultivate long-lasting friendships for our kids. Guiding their hearts and minds will help them learn the value and nuance of relationships, a life lesson for years to come.
How to Help Your Kids Make Friendships
1. Ask them about their friends, often.
I am much more interested in who my daughter played with than what she learned in school. Every afternoon we discuss her interactions and developing friendships. It’s one of the brightest times of my day and I hope hers as well.
2. Plan play dates.
We may not have needed play dates when we were growing up, but these days it makes sense to help our children connect with other kids.
3. Observe behaviors.
I love hosting play dates in our home and volunteering in my daughter’s classroom because I can observe the kids. How do they interact? Is anyone being left out? We can learn about our kids and their friends and help guide them simply by paying attention.
4. Encourage inclusivity.
My kids may struggle in math or science. They may never excel at a sport or master an instrument. But as much as I can have anything to do with it, they will be inclusive of others and notice those who need noticing. Kids need us to show them how to reach out to those who need a friend. They need our help learning to treat people with respect. They probably will not learn this from their peers. They will learn to be inclusive mostly from us.
5. Resist the urge to control or manipulate friendships.
At times I’ll wonder why my child hasn’t connected to a seemingly obvious friend at school or in the neighborhood. I’m tempted to push them into a friendship because I like the other parent or it makes sense to me. But even when children are young, and especially as they get older, relationships need organic growth. We may wish they’d spend more time with one child or that they wouldn’t connect with another, but it’s best to step back and allow friendships to develop on their own.
6. Allow them to fail and learn from their mistakes.
When we see our children hurting or struggling with a relationship, we want to jump in and fix the problem. It’s in our nature (especially as moms) to come to the rescue. But kids will learn their greatest lessons from missteps and failures. We can help them through a tough situation, but sometimes, as hard as it may be, we should watch and wait.
7. Teach them the worth of working through difficulties.
Because they don’t yet know the value of long-term friendships, kids are tempted to give up and move on when faced with a difficult relationship. Through our stories and ongoing encouragement, we can teach children the value of mending broken or difficult connections to cement a lasting friendship.
Although my children were born into a fast-moving, ever-evolving culture where people replace real relationships with social media, I want them to experience the beauty of deep, long-term, real-life friendships. I want to teach them that friendship isn’t always contextual or seasonal. I am committed to help them cultivate connections that will flourish as they do.
This post was written by Jessica Wolstenholm, director of content for Minno, a children’s media company. Jessica is passionate about making childhood fun and meaningful. She lives in Nolensville, Tenn., with her husband, Dave, and two children, Hope and Joshua.
Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is among the top children’s hospitals in the nation. More than 500 physicians in 30 pediatric and surgical specialties offer everything from basic preventive care to treatment for the most complex pediatric conditions. Our specialists offer expert care close to home, throughout Middle Tennessee and beyond.