Your child lives in a very complicated social world. This has always been true for children. All parents can remember their own tears or rage at the cruelty of another child. All parents can remember wanting desperately to be accepted and approved of by other kids. Most of us can remember, at some point in our lives, longing for a best friend.
Things are even more complicated for children now, as media has introduced children to the world of adulthood before they are emotionally ready. Our children do not know, just instinctively, how to build good relationships with other children in such a culture of shifting rules.
Here are some basics on how to help kids develop the social skills they need:
- Foster good social skills from toddlerhood on. This is one of the most important skill sets your child will ever develop. It is infinitely important to future happiness.
- Support friendships. Honor and reinforce your child’s developing friendships. Talk about them, remember them, create opportunities to play. Remember that children get aggravated with each other, just as adults do. It doesn’t mean the end of a friendship, necessarily, just that they need help to work through the issues that come up.
- Model respectful relating. Remember that your children will treat others as you treat them. In addition to the obvious everyday respect, that means that you give them criticism in private, not in front of others, including friends. Find tactful ways to talk to your child and other kids about the way they are treating each other. This helps them work out difficulties when they play together.
- Teach your child that people are important. Teach your child consideration for others. Model it early on, praise it and help brainstorm to solve peer problems
- Teach kids to express their needs and wants without attacking the other person. For instance: “I don’t like it when you push in front of me like that” instead of “You’re mean!” “I need a turn, too!” instead of “You’re hogging the ball.”
- Help your child learn how to repair rifts in relationships. When we think about repairing relationships, we usually focus on apologizing. However, premature apologies won’t be heartfelt and may backfire by causing the child to hold a grudge. Giving them a chance to cool down first always works better. Apologizing is a very useful friendship skill that doesn’t come easily to people, mostly because we feel like it indicates that we are bad or wrong for making a mistake to begin with. The secret of helping kids learn to apologize is not making the apology into a punishment.
Luckily, healthy kids generally make healthy choices even in the context of difficult peer situations. That means that if children have good relationships at home they have a healthy head start, but they still need your help in learning to navigate a complex social world.