How to help children make friends
Few people appreciate just how hard it can be for some children to make friends, according to Goodstart’s early childhood educator Lisa Palethorpe.
Friendships can be tricky to establish and maintain as young children develop their social and emotional skills and learn how to play and live their lives with others.
Developing social skills is an essential part of life, in fact, children construct new knowledge and learnings when they engage with friends, and they learn how to relate to others, respond to challenges, regulate their behaviour and emotions and develop social skills and confidence.
Ms Palethorpe, Goodstart Early Learning national manager and former kindergarten teacher and lecturer, said parents had a huge influence on their child’s social skills and their ability to engage socially with other children and make friends.
“We know that children from a young age initiate playful exchanges with other children, however, to develop these exchanges into positive friendships, young children should be supported to develop appropriate social skills.”
These skills include turn-taking, sharing and listening as well as recognition and respect for the feelings of others, remembering these children are also learning their own feelings.
Families can support children by role modelling appropriate social behaviours, encouraging children to develop their skills and by having realistic expectations of them.
“There will be times when sharing with others is just too hard and so a realistic expectation is understanding that sometimes children don’t want to share (just like adults), and multiple copies of resources helps to reduce tension."
Ms Palethorpe shared three simple everyday ways that parents or carers could encourage and develop a child’s social skills to help them make friends.
1. Help your child feel safe and help them learn to trust other children and the environment.
For any connection to form with another child or person, the child first must feel safe.
For most children, trust is gained from parents or carers. For example if mum feels comfortable with the educator and the nursery room, it is likely so will the child.
For babies and toddlers, Ms Palethorpe suggested parents sat on the floor and play with their child, and other children, and talk about what they are doing.
“Your child will see this behaviour and soon learn that it is safe and okay to interact with the other child or children.”
Ms Palethorpe explained this was why Goodstart educators made strong connections with families, in order to forge trust with not only the family but through the family to the child.
2. Facilitate connections with other children.
Once a child has built a sense of trust, Ms Palethorpe said it was important to facilitate connections with other children.
“People often think that children automatically know how to start playing and engaging with other children, but this may not necessarily be the case. Children often have different temperaments, will all have past experiences while some may never have played with other children or may even have had negative experiences in play such as a neighbour’s child hitting them."
Ms Palethorpe said parents should look at what is going on within the environment and find ways to connect their child with other children, and engage them in a positive social interaction.
On weekends, Ms Palethorpe suggested parents and carers could take simple steps to help support children. For example, while playing near other children, parents could say something like, ‘Georgina, this little person has come over to play with us.. How about we offer her a spade?’ The interaction helps connect children with each other and helps them learn to share.
3. Model appropriate social behaviours.
Children and adults can learn through social interactions, Ms Palethorpe said.
Creating or leveraging everyday interactions verbally can help children learn fundamental social skills such as greeting other children, turn-taking, sharing or listening.
To encourage a three year old to share for instance,a visit to the park which may be a normal event for the family could provide the following opportunity, ‘Oh look Sam, Peter has come over to play with us. He is smiling and being friendly. How can we invite him to play?’ or ‘Oh look, that little person is smiling at us. How about you say hello and ask if he’d like to play with us.’
“These are all little things that you can do each day that will help your child connect with other children and develop their social skills to make friends.”
Next week, Ms Palethorpe will share more tips for parents to help children develop their social skills. She is national manager of Early Learning Capability at Goodstart. The Early Learning Capability Team develops high quality, evidence-based professional learning materials to improve early childhood practice and knowledge of children’s development, learning and wellbeing across Goodstart’s network of 643 centres.