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Updated: Monday, 08 Oct 2012, 11:11 AM EDT
Published : Monday, 08 Oct 2012, 8:04 AM EDT
All human beings are born as social beings. So, having the ability to form friendships at an early age is one of the most important components of our child's social lives.
This can be seen as early as infancy when a child will turn their head to respond to their parent’s voice. Infants typically have their first relationships with their own families, but it isn't long before they venture out to forge friendships with other children and adults outside of their family units.
These new friendships can begin in early childhood settings, extra curricula activities, and social events or play groups.
How can we as parents support these new relationships in a positive manner? We can start with the question of, “Why do young children need friends?”
Why do children need friends?
1) These early friendships provide our children with the ability to develop different ways to relate with others throughout their lives. For instance, children can test out how to share, - to be able to have that give and take that is needed to appropriately interact with others. They can also begin to set
rules, boundaries, and find ways to make decisions that will be acceptable to both friends.
2) Another benefit of building friendships is the opportunity to learn how to win and lose in a safe environment. This can be a tough skill to master but friendships certainly allow for a great learning environment to work on this skill set. Practice makes perfect as they say.
3) An obvious reason to encourage our children to develop new friendships is that it offers them companionship, support and shows them that we are all unique and friends come in all different shapes. sizes, colors, strengthens and weaknesses. I think it's wonderful for our children to be exposed to all types of friends right from the get go. This exposure to various children aids in the building of their own self esteem. We as parents need to assist in making these early experiences...positive ones!
So, it will provide the building blocks for their future social interactions.
All these great benefits are important in aiding children to develop socially and emotionally, So in a nutshell, parents are their child's guides to building their self esteem by promoting and supporting the beginning steps of early childhood friendships. Really take the time with your child to enjoy this fun journey.
The next natural step in assisting your child in making and managing friendships is to actually support your child in making friends.
So how can you help...?
1) Many young children have the ability to make friends very easily and quickly. Parents need to just offer the opportunity for children to meet. If they attend an early learning center than it allows families an easy, daily opportunity for children to interaction with others.
For parents that don't participate in an early childhood center they need to provide that opportunity. For instance, parents can involve their child in organized activities such as story hours, play groups or other sports activities.
But they can also go to places where young children tend to congregate, such as playgrounds, children playing in the neighborhood or at social gatherings.
2) Then let your child know that friends play a very important role in our lives and it is worth the effort it takes to maintain them.
Encourage them to explore new friendships. All children develop differently and may need different levels of support to begin these relationships. Some children make friends very easily and claim that their new acquaintances are their new best friend, even if this was their first and last meeting.
Other children may be cautious and move slowly when meeting new friends. A parent may need to offer some encouragement to the shy child. Maybe assist in the introductions of your shy child if they are trying to make friends on the playground. Sometimes they may need a little nudge to get the interactions started but then it usually flourishes afterwards.
3) Lastly a great way to assist your child in making friends is providing the opportunity to spend time with other families who have children of a similar age. A parent can offer their home for family play dates. That way the children get to know one another and the parents can also begin to forge a relationship too. It makes it easy to maintain friendships if the parents enjoy spending time together.
The parent’s role...
1) parents should be seen as the coach, cheerleader and supervisor to ensure appropriate play and that a fun time is had by all
2) parents should be a positive role model
3) and as we spoke about already - parents need to provide the opportunities for children to interact
What role should parent's play when their child has a problem with a friend …?
As adults we have all experienced times when we may not get along or disagree with a friend and it only makes sense that our child would experience some of the same concerns with their own friendships.
If your child, at any age, experiences difficulties
with a friend we need to remember our roles as the coach, cheerleader and supervisor. We need to encourage them to talk about their concerns and explore the different options they have to solve the dilemma.
It's very important to help them handle it in a positive manner. Try to ensure that they try to put themselves in their shoes and see how they would feel in the same circumstances.
For instance, if a friend told your child that they thought their new hair cut was ugly. As the parent we should be that positive role model and say, “maybe your friend was having a bad day” instead of saying “don't hang around with that friend anymore because they are mean...” Always try and practice what you preach.
What if the parent doesn't like the friend what should they do...?
1) remember to always stay positive and be supportive
2) talk about your concerns with your child as they arise and try to come up with a solution that will solve the problem
3) Every parent wants their child to be friends with a polite, kind and respectful child but we sometimes don't know all the background information with your child's new friend. So, try not to be judgmental and give the child an opportunity to adapt and make good choices. No one is perfect and
a challenging child can be a great learning opportunity for your child. Every child needs to learn to adapt to all types of people and the early years is a great testing ground to learn new strategies to relate to all their friends.
4) Unfortunately if the relationship gets to be inappropriate or unsafe then as a parent we have the right and responsibility to terminate that friendship.
Overall, friendships offer a great opportunity for children to grow socially, emotionally and improve their self esteem. As parents we need to encourage and support these great new friendships any way we can. Most of all we want to have fun in this endeavor.