The old saying ‘you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family’ rings true at some point in our lives. Some of us may have formed friendships for life in primary school all those years ago, through mother’s groups and some of us have may have formed friendships through our children. As adults, we are equipped with a variety of learned social skills in developing and maintaining friendships but they require work to maintain, much like a garden. If you forget to nurture it, it will eventually wilt and die!
Some children find it difficult to make friends and maintain those friendships for various reasons. They may be socially immature, lack confidence in initiating a friendship, be very shy or perhaps have a dominant personality which needs to be tamed. As parents we try to nurture and empower our children with social skills and give them advice when things aren’t running smoothly. Sometimes our advice is not always the best advice even though we think it is and sometimes our children need to work it out for themselves. Giving them strategies and ideas to try is the best starting point. Intervening every time there is a problem may resolve the issue, but it doesn’t equip our children to resolve the problem, it teaches them to tell mum or dad, and they will fix the problem. There does become a point when a teacher or parent needs to intervene, but there is a very fine line as to when. As a parent, if you aren’t sure, speak to the teacher if it is an issue at school and take it from there. Sometimes all it needs is for the teacher to be aware of the situation and not necessarily act on it. There are various well-being programs in schools which aim to equip students with resilience, confidence, organisation skills, getting along with others and persistence. Some schools also run social skills programs for students who require some extra assistance in this area.
As parents what can we do to encourage our children to make friends and more importantly, keep their friends? Teach social skills such as how to start a conversation and maintain it, how to be a good winner and more importantly a good loser and the toughest one for some children, even adults, is compromise! You can encourage play dates after school and on the weekends so there is time for friendships to be nurtured. As a parent, it also gives you an insight into how your child is socialising and deals with such things as sharing, conflict resolution and compromising with others. Encourage your child to mix with different children so they can seek out those they get along with rather than mixing with the same children. After school activities are another great way to meet and develop new friends. I know my daughter started her squad swimming without knowing anyone which was a big step for her. It meant she was mixing with a new bunch of children and had to socialise and put herself out there in order to make new friends. It is great for our children to have a separate group of friends from school because when times get tough, they have another outlet and another group of friends. Often the interest in the activity is enough to kick start a new friendship.
As a parent, the most difficult aspect I have found is by teaching both my children how to socialise, build and maintain friendships and doing the right thing, other parents don’t necessarily teach it. Giving your children advice and tips on how to handle friendship difficulties may not always work if other children haven’t been taught the same thing. As parents, we would hope that others do it, but the reality is, not everyone does. As long as you know your child is equipped with the skills and is trying to do the right thing, we as parents can’t ask for more than that.