Making Friends: The Most Basic Social-Emotional Skill

By Cary Zavala /

friendsMake new friends,
but keep the old,
one is silver
and the other gold.

Remember this old tune? As a former girl scout leader, the song is one that can get stuck in my head, as it was sung many, many times! This month’s Early Childhood Education Series topic was about the importance of helping children develop friendship skills. This got me thinking about how true this tune is. Friends ARE like silver and gold. Precious. Priceless.

Consider the child who readily shares toys, often proposes ideas that include others, laughs a lot, helps others, offers kindness, and almost always says “yes!” when asked by a classmate to play. Now consider the child who doesn’t say much to her classmates, prefers to hover close to the teacher, is a little shy or reserved. Or the child who is hyperactive, impulsive, is disruptive when entering a group, and has trouble sharing or waiting for a turn. The differing social worlds experienced by each child not only predict very different developmental tracks in preschool, but can set the stage for life-long consequences. Early friendships are the most powerful single predictor of long-term adjustment.

Good news! Skills can be learned! Adults play an important role in helping children build the skills required that lead to the behaviors that promote friendship. We are models for how to be kind, considerate, cooperative, good listeners, good sharers, etc. Children learn much by listening and watching how we do things. It goes a long way to consider how to devote energy toward building a home with a friendly atmosphere. How do we do this? We model and teach the skills, provide opportunities for children to practice the skills, and give positive and specific feedback about what children are doing well.

What are some of the skills we can intentionally teach?*

  • How to give a compliment
  • How to introduce yourself when meeting new people
  • How to get a conversation going and how to respond positively to others
  • How to invite someone to play
  • How to apologize and start again
  • How to be a good sport
  • How to be helpful, kind, cooperative
  • How to share

What are some strategies?*

  • Direct modelingfriendly
  • Talk about it…what makes a good friend…what are the qualities? Books, puppets, videos, role play…all can provide ways to point out “right way” and “wrong way” to be a friend
  • Organize supervised play dates or activities…socializing can be easier in one-on-one situations. Consider play date “prep” to review skills, select a few games or activities in advance, and ask your child how she will know if her guests are giving a good time. Are they smiling? Laughing?
  • Use of cooperative toys (balls, puppets, dress-up clothes, board games, etc.)
  • Use of “Social Scripts” – to teach and promote practice of new skills.
  • Be realistic. Consider your child’s personality. Some children are social butterflies while others need more time to warm up to new situations. Comparing siblings or other children to yours can skew your perspective.
  • Be patient. Teaching friendship skills is not as easy as it sounds. But it’s worth the time and energy, as friends are very important when it comes to emotional health.

Thank you Lenawee Great Start for providing each parent in attendance with their own copy of the delightful storybook, “You Will Be My Friend!” Thank you parents for taking the time to learn how to support children in growing friendship skills. It is an investment, and to a child, having just one good friend can make all the difference.

*Info taken from “You’ve got to have friends” by G.E. Jospeh & P.S. Strain, U of Colorado (Denver)


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Cary Zavala is a licensed professional counselor and a skilled parenting educator. Cary joined with Lenawee Great Start in presenting a series of Parent Education talks during the 2014-2015 year.

 

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