All work and no play… is bad for your child! Relationships with other people are important for children’s emotional development.
This guide will help you to understand the importance of children building friendships. It will also show you how to assist their development, especially if your child is shy. It can be used to help sort out difficulties that may arise in children’s friendships too.
National Children's Bureau research states that children from poor backgrounds are more likely to encounter friendship problems, be vulnerable to bullying, or lack parental support. Over a third of poorer children spend playtime on their own.
Research shows that children without friends can develop emotional and mental difficulties later in life. Belonging, feeling valued, and having support helps confidence and emotional resilience.
Friendship teaches children:
How can parents help?
You have taught your child to say please and thank you, and how to share. Continue coaching your child in any new or difficult situations.
Your child might be self-conscious, or scared of making friends. Ask them to imagine approaching another child and asking them if they want to play. If your child is worried that they will say no, ask: ‘Why would they say no?’
If their first answer is a negative one, like: ‘Because they hate me,’ keep asking: ‘What else might stop them playing with you?’ or ‘What might they be feeling?’
Encourage them to think of alternative possibilities – reasons that are not self-critical. Let them think up more sympathetic answers: the other child might be too shy, or feel scared, or not have the right footwear for playing ball, etc.
Establish a positive relationship with your child, so they feel confident about discussing any problems they’re encountering with friends. Some children struggle with maintaining relationships or handling their emotions. They take disagreements to heart.
More useful information can be found on the Young Minds website.
As with any close relationships, there are sometimes squabbles or differences of opinion. For your child, falling out with a friend may seem like the end of the world. For them, in their world, it is. Help them to cope.
Acknowledge their feelings without judging them. For example, say, "It sounds like you feel upset about ----."
Be sympathetic, but discuss their options. Talk about ways they might approach this problem, and reassure them that all will be well. Let them know you are there to support them through any minor disagreements.
Some children tend to keep problems to themselves. 67% of children from well-off backgrounds talk to their mothers about problems, compared with only 58% of children from poorer backgrounds. Encourage them to talk to you. Let them know they don’t have to struggle alone.
The issue of bullying can occur, even within friendship groups. Since 46% of children admit that they have been bullied, this may be a concern for parents. Depression and reluctance to go to school can quickly set in.
Let your child know you are there to help them.
The NHS Live Well site can help.
If you are concerned about your child having too many / not enough friends, remember that they might just have a different social style than yours.
Introverts replenish their energy by spending time alone. Extroverts gain energy from being with other people. Neither is better than the other – they are just different preferences. However, your child will need to be flexible and adaptable in life, and to feel comfortable in all situations – whether with one close friend or in a group of acquaintances.
You can’t make friends for your child, but your love and support will help your child to make friends on their own.