One of the most important things parents can do to set their children up for a happy and fulfilling future is to ensure they form solid, healthy friendships. Although children will eventually choose their own friends based on common interests and personality, parents still play a significant role in how easily their children socialise and interact with their peers.
Numerous psychological studies have examined the characteristics that popular and less popular kids exhibit. Not surprisingly, these are the same characteristics that adults are either drawn to or avoid. Regardless of age, culture or social status, aggressive, disruptive, domineering or selfish behaviour tends to alienate, whilst cooperation, kindness, empathy and tolerance attract us to others. Read on for some recommendations on how parents can help their children foster these desirable qualities.
Reasoning Rather Than Ruling: The style of parenting – whether authoritarian or authoritative – can have a big influence on a child’s ability to make and maintain friends. Authoritarian parents attempt to control behaviour through punishment and discourage discussion about a child’s behaviour. Their children are, in turn, more likely to exhibit aggression and hostility, and may not develop an instinctive sense of right and wrong. Authoritative parents, on the other hand, aim to shape a child’s behaviour through calm, reasoned discussion and a clear explanation of the reasons behind the rules. Children raised in these environments tend to be more self-controlled and better liked by peers.
Encouraging Kindness and Compassion: In study after study, kindness and helpfulness are associated with higher levels of popularity. In one study, a group of primary school children were tasked with performing three acts of kindness per week. Over time, those kids became more popular than their classmates who had not been assigned the same task. Parents can therefore help foster these qualities in their children, for example by taking them along to help out a neighbour or friend with a household chore, or giving them an unexpected gift, and also by encouraging them to think of ways they can show similar kindnesses to others.
Communication and Control: Verbal communication is key to developing interpersonal relationships. Kids who don’t communicate well often have trouble making friends. They can, however, be taught simple ways to communicate better: making eye contact, turning to face the person speaking to them, listening and responding in a relevant manner, are all things parents can teach their children to do. All children are prone to occasional outbursts and selfish impulses but how parents deal with these behaviours will shape a child’s emotional responses in the future: talking to them about why they reacted in the way they did and what feelings they experienced, is more constructive than trivialising the incident as ‘silliness’ or an ‘overreaction’, or indeed something that deserves punishment.
Dealing with conflict: When a squabble arises, as they inevitably do, parents are often tempted to step in and resolve the issue. However, conflict resolution is a problem-solving skill kids should be encouraged to develop themselves. A good approach for parents is to give each child a chance to express how they feel, encouraging them to use words rather than actions, ask them what they would like to happen next, and help them think of ways to solve the issue.
THE 4CS OF FRIENDSHIP: COMPASSION, COMPROMISE, COMMUNICATION, COOPERATION
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