Helping Parents Talk to Their Elementary Age Kids About Friendship

February 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm  •  Posted in Healthy Parenting by  •  0 Comments

By Bette J. Freedson, LCSW, LICSW


Talking to kids about friendship depends on the ages. With little kids, you can arrange a play date and watch them interact to get a sense of what they need help with.  You might even intervene and talk to your child and the friend about whatever social skill appears to need to be addressed, i.e., sharing, arguing etc.

When they get a little older, they may be interacting with less parental oversight. In those cases you might hear, “me and (whoever) are in a fight.” Parents can listen for these opportunities and ask some questions, “What happened?  How did you handle it?” Staying away from “why” questions may help, since they usually get an “I dunno!”  What, when, and how questions tend to elicit more facts.

Once you get some material to work with you can determine what skill is needed.  Young children need to know basic things we take for granted:

  • how to introduce yourself to a new person
  • how to get to know someone
  • how to have a conversation

These are some of what are called Pro-social skills, and they can be taught.  One of the best ways to “talk” to your kids about friends is to model appropriate and healthy friendship behaviors.  If your kid overhears you fighting with your best friend, that is a lesson you may or may not want to teach. What you say about your own relationships “speaks” volumes to your children.

How to Deal With a Mean Friend

Mean friends happen.  You can normalize the situation.  “Sometimes this happens to kids.” I offer two principal tips here.  First, help the child know the difference between tattling and reporting.  If mean is just mean then the child can ignore it, and go play with another kid out at recess, for example.  The child can be taught that it is okay to say, “That hurt my feelings and I will stop playing with you if you keep on saying/doing that.”  Secondly, if meaness turns into something physical or unsafe, it is important for the child to know that he or she can tell a safe adult, i.e. teacher/parent/babysitter etc. Reporting is for safety and the child learns that he/she can take care of herself.  This is the tip of the “bullying” iceberg.

When meaness is chronic, crosses a boundary of physical safety, adult help is warranted. A good book to get is “Don’t Squeal Unless It Is a Big Deal.”   You can also find good books at “The Self Esteem Shop” online.

How to Be a Friend

Modeling is very important here. As per above conversations, you can use your own experiences as models.  And you can “talk” to your kids via stories that  you make up.  Other peoples stories such as “The Berenstein Bears” for little kids are full of good “moral and ethical” examples. Littler kids respond well to stories, but even the older ones can get ideas from allegories.  Recently while preparing my sixth grade boys social skills group for a new member, I roll played a new member for them. His name was “Norm.”

Norm could be everywhere and was  curious about  how things happen.   I suggested that he “pluralized” himself, becoming “Norms” and then he was able to help everyone  know what the appropriate  behaviors were in any situation.

Role playing is wonderful with kids, with little ones it is play—with older ones you can call it more realistically role playing (the love it) or acting.  You can act out the situations they bring up.  But remember your initial “talking” task is to listen carefully for the cues about what they need.

How Do You Deal with Jealousy in Your Child or the Friend?

Try to stay positive even if you want to say, “So and so is a jerk so who care who they are friendly with.” That may help a little but may not teach the pro social skill needed, which when dealing with jealousy is esteem of the Self.  Jealousy causes kids to distort, “If Johnny plays more with Jimmy then he must like him better and I am not good enough.”

Fairness issues also come into play here.  “It’s not Fair!! Sally went to play with Judy and Judy is MY friend!”  Again, Listen, for your opportunities and give short clear suggestions like, “Who other people play with does not take away from you being a good person.

To reduce any whining or complaining, you can distract, but the root of jealousy is stable sense of self.  This is what you want to teach.  You can do it well with stories with little ones, and more direct teaching with older kids.

 Tips to Help Parent Determine if They Need to Get More Involved
  • Listen for cues in what they say to you or in their general  play. Kids will play out their concerns with their toys.
  • Listen for the same category of friendship issue being reported consistently.
  • Watch the kids play with friends whenever possible.
  • Get involved ANYTIME…Prep work is good and remediation is good.
  • Be aware that you are always involved modeling how to deal with all relationships.
  • How you interact with the kids themselves in general is going to transfer into their relationships.

To find a social worker in your area, please click here.

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