Sheryl Roberts, MA, LPCC
Friendships! This can be a loaded word for our young ones. The word normally is associated with joy, fun, and belonging. For others, the word reminds them of times they were left out, left behind or left alone. The elementary years are critical times for children’s social development. Family, neighbors, fellow church goers all play a crucial part. But in our school environment, social development takes on new joys and challenges.
Friendship development in elementary school is more complicated than in pre-school. The rules governing friendships become more subtle and have less room for mistakes. Some children, who are late bloomers when it comes to understanding social rules, can sense the weight of the missing pieces. How can we help our children learn to make friends, keep friends and be a good friend?
- Unfortunately, our culture seems to have lost the free-wheeling style of parenting of old, where children were allowed to play with neighbors unattended for long periods of time. This freedom allowed children to learn social rules by trial and error without the hovering presence of an adult. In our more controlled environment of today, it might behoove parents to allow time for this free-style social development of children in whatever way seems appropriate with neighbors, church friends or play dates.
- Help coach children when you are present about how to engage in play with new children. Successful children watch others for a while, wait for a pause in the game, ask to join in. They quickly figure out the rules, play fair and are encouraging and inclusive to others.
- Build play dates into your schedule. Children should have one to two play dates a week to build more intimate friendships with a close number of children. These play dates can be free-form or based around an activity like ice skating, video games or baking. Be close by, but allow the children the freedom to develop their friendship in their own way.
- Help your child to develop empathy for others. Children build empathy by watching it modeled. Speak kindly about others, commenting on what you think others must feel in a given situation. Give your child a real sense that you care for the misfortunes of others, including those who are marginalized and left out. Ask your child to identify others in their sphere of influence who could use a bit of empathy. Praise your children when they befriend those who are struggling to connect. Encourage them with the idea that they are the hands and feet of Jesus when they love the unlovable.
- Read books to your children that focus on friendship. Talk about the lessons learned and how they can apply to your child’s life. Here is a list of a few of my favorites:
Frog and Toad are Friends
Best Friends for Francis
How Do Dinosaurs Play with their Friends
Henry and Mudge and the Careful Cousin
Wonder- R.J. Palacio
Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Patterson
The One Hundred Dresses – Eleanor Estes
The Cricket in Times Square- George Selden
We at SHJS are committed to helping children navigate the difficult process of building empathy, friendship and comradery. Parents, keep your child’s budding social development as a healthy and worthwhile goal. Together, we can do this!
Peace of Jesus,