SEL: How to be a Good Friend
The Importance of Friendships
Friendships develop and change as children grow, beginning at a young age when children find their first companions in play groups or at school. In early childhood, children rapidly gain an awareness of their environment as new skills flourish. Similarly, they become aware of their own preferences for activities and interests which, inevitably, forms the root of their values. As they progress into adolescence, children begin drawing conclusions about themselves and their identities which, in turn, is often reflected in their friendship choices. Encouraging children to reflect on the qualities of good friends allows them to seek healthy peer relationships while fostering self-awareness.
How Do Friendships Develop?
Making friends can seem straightforward from an objective standpoint but is, in fact, a complex series of social navigations that requires planning and care. In one study, children were interviewed about the process of making friends as well as the traits a good friend might have. Even the young participants expressed an awareness that making new friends isn’t as simple as asking someone if they’d like to play, and it seems that from an early age children understand that there are nuances to the layers of friendship, inclusion, and social norms. There are several social skills that must be practiced in order for friendships to develop and thrive.
How to be a Good Friend at School
There are many lessons that provide a framework for uncovering the traits of a good friend. It is important, too, that educators allow opportunities for students to practice friendship skills both in face-to-face classrooms as well as virtual platforms. With many schools now offering remote learning options to students of all grade levels, we must consider how identity and friendship relate in the digital age and provide context for these students as well.
Making Friends at School
Making friends at school doesn’t come naturally for every child
For a variety of reasons, some children aren’t able to connect with peers and can become isolated and withdrawn
Studies say that children who have friends are less likely to report feeling depressed than peers who did not. And for kids who were naturally shy and withdrawn, friendships shielded against sadness.
But how can you help a child who can’t seem to make friends at school?. First you need to identify why a child isn’t connecting with their peers.
Common hurdles to friendship
A lack of social skills could be the problem when a child wants to dictate the rules of every game or doesn’t know how to seamlessly enter a conversation. A few lessons in social graces or a social skills class through a therapist may help.
But these behaviors also could signal an underlying problem. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example, can struggle with impulsivity. Gifted children have their own challenges.
Social relationships often are negatively impacted by [a gifted child’s] tendency to lose interest with the day-to-day triviality that typifies most relationships during childhood,” writes Christine Fonseca, an educational psychologist. “Instead these children would prefer to focus on larger world problems or things that are abstract and complex – most of which is not appealing to typical nongifted peers. The result is a combination of frustration and avoidance, neither of which move toward strong interpersonal relationships.”
And for some kids, social anxiety, a fear of interacting with others, can make connecting with peers difficult. But not all children who lack a bunch of besties are struggling. Some may just be introverts who prefer quiet time over playdates.
Make comfortable interactions a goal
For children who need to brush up on their social skills, provide them with opportunities to interact with a wide range of kids. That might include children from school or sports teams.
Focus on their strengths
If your child loves to cook, sign them up for a cooking class. If they can’t stop coding, get them involved in a computer program. Look for whatever would play to their strengths and wherever their interests intersect where they’ll meet other kids who have something in common with them and where they’ll likely feel good about themselves.