Forging new friendships is an important life-skill and something that can have enormous benefits for children in terms of developing their self-confidence, acquiring valuable social skills and learning to negotiate and share with others. That said, the psychological literature shows that about 10% of school-aged children have no friends in their classes, which can lead to serious emotional difficulties and has even been linked to the development of mental health problems in adulthood. The good news, however, is that there are a few simple techniques based on the latest psychological research that can really increase your child’s chances of developing strong and meaningful bonds with other children their age.
Some Tips For Parents
- The first important tip is to teach your child how to recognize basic non-verbal behaviours. Because shy and anxious children frequently avoid eye-contact, it is possible that they are not reading the facial expressions of other kids that they are trying to interact with, and so they may well miss out on that ‘crucial smile’ that would give them the much needed confidence to proceed in the interaction. For this reason, tell your child to make a conscious effort to look directly at the person they are addressing, and to look out for subtle non-verbal signals.
- Teach your child basic social skills. Children often lack insight into their own behaviour and so may be blissfully unaware when they treat others badly. By teaching your child to share their toys with other kids and not to take items that belong to others without asking permission, you are minimizing the chances that your child will upset others, which in turn increases the likelihood that they will be accepted into larger social groups.
- Another useful technique is to teach your child to pay compliments to other children. For example, you may tell your child to compliment another child’s drawing at school and maybe to ask that child if they can teach them how to draw a similar picture. In this way collaborative interaction is established and both children have a shared focus of attention. From this positive interaction your child’s confidence should grow and as a result he or she will be more prepared to engage in further exchanges with others.
- A fundamental feature of friendships, irrespective of whether they refer to kids or adults, is that they are based on mutual trust and self-disclosure. For this reason, if your child has been told a secret from another child, it is important to talk to them about the importance of maintaining that secret and not divulging it to others. Because the part of children’s brains which deal with ‘planning and self-control’ are not as developed as adults, they may not realise the consequences of their behaviours on others. One way to make children understand these consequences is to imagine how they would feel if someone disclosed one of their secrets.
- Encourage your child to respect other children’s viewpoints. Teaching your child that it is O.K for them to disagree with their friends and vice-versa, will minimize the inevitable conflict that will occur at some point during their friendship with others. For your child to develop into a well-rounded and healthy individual, they must be prepared not only to express their own tastes, interests and opinions, but critically to respect that these may well differ from other children. Embracing this sort of diversity is a key skill that will serve them well in later life.
Research shows that establishing long and meaningful relationships with others is something that we become better at as we get older. Children often lack the practical experience in developing friendships and like any skill the more you practice the more proficient you become. Nevertheless, the psychological literature indicates that there are some simple tips that kids can use to increase the chances that they will make friends with other children of the same age.
These tips have been compiled by Nivea to help children develop close relationships. Professor Geoff Beattie for Nivea, has been looking at how the UK population is feeling closer than ever before. One of the key findings is that human touch and friendship have health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, halving the risk of cancer, and providing better mental health.