Wondering how to teach your child to be a good friend? Here are 9 friendship skills you can work on from toddlerhood so your kids can develop life-long friendship skills!
We all want our kids to be socially intelligent. We want our kids to build beautiful friendships. Friendship skills are learned. They don’t necessarily come naturally. And the absolute best way to teach friendship skills is to model them in your daily life. Here are the 9 most important friendship skills you should demonstrate and practice with your kids.
How to Introduce Yourself
Introductions can be awkward. One of the best skills you can teach your kids is how to confidently introduce themselves. This includes the importance of body language. A smile can go a long way! Don’t forget to include how to ask someone else’s name. I also like to teach kids how to gracefully say “You know what, I already forgot your name. Can you remind me?”
The best way to teach this skill is to practice! Role play at home where you each take turns making the first introduction. When you have the opportunity to meet new kids, stay close to your kids so you can help with prompts if needed. Eventually your kids will be confidently making new friends at every playground.
I have two kids with very different needs in terms of personal boundaries. One loves hugs and high fives. The other does not like people, especially strangers, in her personal bubble. We work on personal boundaries on a daily basis. This includes asking permission for hugs, fist bumps, and any other type of physical greeting or affection. It also includes being totally cool if the answer is “no thanks”. My kids know not to take it personal because each person has a different comfort zone.
When I notice my older love bug is in someone’s personal space, we have a subtle, private queue I can give her to remind her about boundaries. It’s a great strategy to remind her without embarrassing her. You could use any kind of reminder, like a hand gesture or a specific whistle.
Use Please and Thank You
Using please and thank you should start very early on in toddlerhood. As a parent, you should demonstrate these polite phrases many, many times a day. Anytime you make a request of your toddler, use please. Any time your toddler complies, use thank you. It will quickly become a natural part of their vocabulary and you won’t have to provide reminders. You’ll notice they just naturally use these phrases with their friends.
How to be Inclusive
Inclusion is a critical skill. If you teach your kids how to be inclusive, they will flourish not only in school, but in adulthood as well. It’s surprising to me how uncomfortable some adults are when trying to include people, especially people who may be a little different from them.
There are a couple of ways I like to teach inclusion:
- Roleplay how to invite someone to play
- Find opportunities to teach about differences (i.e. skin color differences, physical handicaps, language differences, etc.)
- Avoid using phrases like “Don’t stare!” or “Don’t point”. Instead, encourage them to make friends. Use phrases like “Say Hello” or “Ask her to tell you her story.” (Pro Tip: People with any sort of difference feel much more comfortable if you ask them their story rather than something like “How did you lose your arm?”)
How to Stand Up for Yourself or Your Friends
It’s inevitable. Your kids will encounter bullies. And when you teach your child to be a good friend, you should mention that not everyone will be a friend. Some people won’t treat you kindly.
Whether your child is the target, or one of their friends is on the receiving end, your child should know how to stand up for themselves. It can be as simple as a single phrase that’s assertive, but not aggressive. Try “Hey! I do not like when you push me. I need you to stop, now.”
Kids who can express both their feelings and their needs will be much more successful against bullies.
Roleplay various bully situations with your children on a regular basis. And make sure your kids know that they can come to you if bullying situations happen so you can coach them on how to deal with them going forward.
How to Apologize
Apologies are difficult for some kids. It’s hard to admit you’re wrong or that you’ve done something bad. It starts with you demonstrating how to apologize when you make mistakes. And there are a couple of other things you can do to help your kids get comfortable with making mistakes (and apologizing). First, discuss how mistakes are ok. They are learning opportunities. People who make mistakes are growing. Second, that it’s important to right your wrongs, whenever possible.
How to Make it Right
That leads me into “making it right”. Whatever the mistake, your kids can do something to rectify their wrongs. If they say something mean, it could be apologizing and then offering a compliment. If they accidentally hurt a friend, it could be fetching a bandaid. Encourage your kids to problem solve in these situations. What creative ways can they make up for their transgression?
How to Be a Helper
Helpers make great friends. Point out helpers whenever possible. Helpers could be firefighters or police officers who help during emergencies. It could be teachers who stay late to tutor children who need extra help. It might be the crossing guard who helps children across the street.
Demonstrate what it means to be a helper in your everyday life. Help elderly shoppers reach groceries on the top shelf. Volunteer at local non-profits. Encourage your children to find opportunities to help whenever they can! Kids who grow up in an environment where helping is a natural part of being in a community will inevitably be great friends.
That Friends Come and Go
One of the most overlooked aspects of friendships is that they come and go, and that’s totally ok. When we’re trying to teach your child how to be a good friend, you should discuss that it’s ok for friends to change over time. Your child may decide after the school year that they don’t care to hang out with the kid they sat next to in math class. That’s fine. People change, and so do relationships. Encourage your kids to be open about their friendship preferences.