Home Community Blog Navigating Friendships Through the Early Years

Tips for Parents 
By Jenny Villanueva Wojcikowski, Lower School Counselor

The elementary school years bring forth growth in children not only academically, but also emotionally and socially. An important aspect of this growth is the development of friendships. Friends make daily life fun and exciting, but sometimes, they can bring struggles which can feel personal and intense. As a parent, it can be challenging helping your child figure out these relationships. Here are five tips to help navigate these, sometimes, tricky waters.

  1. Establishing and maintaining friendships is a skill built over time. Have you ever thought about the many skills involved in making friends? Sharing, initiating a conversation, listening, and empathy are just a few of the many skills required. These skill sets begin to be developed in the preschool years, and are built upon in the lower elementary years with assistance from caring adults. As with any new skill, expect lots of bumps and scrapes along the way, and know that some children need more practice and guidance than others. Guide your child by coaching them through these situations, and even practice different scenarios and role playing at home. 
  1. Find opportunities to point out social cues and norms. Saying “excuse me” when you are switching spots in line and bumping into someone may seem pretty evident to adults, but most children need to be explicitly taught these social rules. Meeting and greeting others politely, taking turns and asking questions of another person, greeting someone as they walk into a room, reading someone’s body language, among many others, are learned through daily interactions. Talk about these interactions with your children when young. With older children, talk about how these interactions may have an impact on their relationships. With time, children will understand the unspoken rules in society, but they may need some reminders or help with new situations as they arise. 
  1. Recess is a social learning environment. You will inevitably hear stories about your child’s interactions with classmates at recess. This is because recess is much more than a physical break from the school day. It is an outdoor classroom where students can roam safely and let their creativity take over. This often involves classmates playing games with one another like tag and four square, a friendly pickup game of soccer or basketball, or swinging on the outdoor play set. It is important to remember that it is during these unstructured moments when most friendship skills are practiced. Students learn to negotiate, cooperate, and build teamwork skills as they decide what to play, who to play with and when to seek out an adult for help. Disagreements may occur, but they are wonderful opportunities for growth and learning. Recess monitors, classroom teachers, and other adults in the building can help coach students through these situations and guide them in resolving conflicts. These are learning moments students will carry with them into the classroom and beyond. 
  1. Create opportunities to practice outside of school. Parents can have a huge impact by creating opportunities for children to engage in one on one  or small group playdates. In these more quiet moments, children can have extra opportunities for dialogue and practice many of the skills mentioned, such as listening and empathy. Provide some play date activities in a home or at a neighborhood playground, allowing for some choice in activity options. Let the children decide what to do and choose how to spend their time. Don’t hover around them, but stay close by to redirect behavior as needed. Younger children will often need more prompts by adults, but give them opportunities to figure out any conflicts that may arise. When back on track, point out and praise positive behaviors. These comments help children identify how to be a good friend and increase the chances of those behaviors being repeated. 
  1. Friendships will shift and change. Prepare for the fact that some of your child’s friendships will shift and change, especially as the middle school years approach. It can be heartbreaking for parents to see a childhood friendship that appeared strong and unbreakable start to dwindle and fall apart as the children mature and approach the later elementary years. This is a normal transition as children figure out who they are, what their interests are, and start to align themselves with others who feel the same. This does not mean the friendship is completely over, but it may not be a straight path forward. Listen to your child during these hard moments and help normalize these dynamics for them. Guide them to seek out and develop new friendships, whether through an after school sport, extracurricular activity, or other area of interest where like-minded individuals can be found. Offer your personal life experiences and friendship examples to create opportunities for conversation. Ask questions and resist judgment. Find comfort in knowing all of these struggles are a normal part of childhood and will provide resilience and growth in unimaginable ways.
Waterford News

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