friendship connection relationships resilient children

We all want our children to make good friendship choices – but what does this mean in practice and how do we help our children make the right choices?

When making friends for the first time, our children can sometimes sit back and wait for other children to approach them. This may result in a good friendship, but it can be hit and miss – a more reliable approach involves them considering who they want to be friends with and approaching them.

Some children can find this difficult, maybe they are shy or lack the confidence needed to approach a child they don’t know. One way to make this easier is to have a game in mind they can ask other children to play. They can also prepare something to say to other children and rehearse saying this, e.g. “Hello, my name is Emily and I have a pet bunny. What is your name?” As parents, we can also help children learn how to read social cues, e.g. by teaching them to listen carefully and observe others’ body language.

Once they have made their friends, children need to be encouraged to critically appraise their friendships – not all friendships are good ones and the bottom line is children should spend more of their time with good friends than bad ones.

Try encouraging your child to talk about how they feel after they have spent time with a friend. Do they feel good? The odd interaction with a friend that doesn’t make them feel good is normal, but if this starts to become the norm it may be time for children to explore other friendships. And remember, quality is better than quantity – a small handful of good friends is always better than a big group of mediocre or bad friends.

Children also need to be encouraged to critically appraise what they bring to their friendships – we all like to think our children are good friends to others but this isn’t always the case. Are our children making an effort with their friends? Do they listen and are they kind? It’s always an interesting exercise to ask children what they bring to their friendships – maybe it is humour, support, a listening ear, similar interests or an imaginative mind. What ideas do they have?

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Here are 3 more tips on how to encourage healthy friendships:

  1. Keep the lines of communication open, both with your child and with their teacher at school. Listen to your child and seek their teacher’s advice and guidance
  2. Proactively encourage healthy friendships. You can do this by organising play dates with friends who make your child feel good. It can also be important to encourage your child to build friendships outside of school, e.g. at swimming or soccer
  3. Teach your child how to handle an unhealthy friendship or an interaction that hasn't gone well - and keep an eye out for bullying situations. Whilst we would encourage children to handle as many friendship issues as possible by themselves, bullying situations need support and intervention from caring adults

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Suggested activity: A great craft activity is to create a scale with your child – a gauge or a thermometer can work well. Ask your child to decorate it and add numbers (1-10) or colours (green to red) to represent a good interaction with a friend (10/green) or a bad interaction with a friend (1/red). Use this with your child to discuss how they feel after spending time with a friend.